Today, the House Judiciary Committee’s Encryption Working Group released its year-end report — and the result is good news for technology companies. While the report doesn’t explicitly rule out encryption legislation, it lands firmly on the side of encryption policy critics, arguing that law enforcement backdoors pose a threat to security.
The result is a major blow to many public figures in law enforcement, who have consistently argued that device encryption presents a new threat to police powers of investigation. In an interview earlier this year, Manhattan DA Cy Vance said his office has over 400 locked iOS devices that are inaccessible to investigators because of Apple’s encryption system.
Critics counter that any system allowing police to get into those phones could also be exploited by criminals, an argument the working group ultimately found convincing.
“Congressional action in this space should weigh any short-term benefits against the longterm impacts to the national interest,” today’s report reads. “Congress cannot stop bad actors—at home or overseas— from adopting encryption. Therefore, the Committees should explore other strategies to address the needs of the law enforcement community.”
Formed in wake of the San Bernardino case, the encryption working group is made up of members from the the two House committees with jurisdiction over the issue, Judiciary and Energy & Commerce. The intention was to create a meeting ground where concerns from law enforcement and the tech industry could meet on equal ground. For the past six months, they’ve been meeting with stakeholders from various parties and trying to assemble a compromise that could guide future legislation. The result isn’t binding, but it’s our best guess as to how the two House committees might take action on what’s become an unusually confused issue.
The result has already drawn a sigh of a relief from some tech policy groups. “We hope that this report sends a strong signal to Senators Burr and Feinstein and anyone else on Capitol Hill considering legislation that would undermine encryption,” said Kevin Bankston, executive director of New America’s Open Technology Institute. “The House committees that have jurisdiction over this issue are not interested in moving forward with any wrongheaded backdoor bill.”