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New bill looks to save smartphone encryption from state bans

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Photo by Kris Connor/ Getty Images

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) are introducing a bill today to effectively override bad state-level encryption bills. The ENCRYPT Act of 2016, or by its longer name, the Ensuring National Constitutional Rights of Your Private Telecommunications Act, would preempt state and local government encryption laws. The two men said today they are "deeply concerned" that varying bills surrounding encryption would endanger the country as well as the competitiveness of American companies. The argument is that it wouldn’t be easy or even feasible to tailor phone encryption capabilities for specific states.

The catalyst for the new bill was the proposal of state-level bills in California and New York. Those proposals, which consisted of the exact same text, would ban smartphone encryption for phones sold in those states and fine manufacturers for each phone sold with secure disk encryption. While proposed by different state assemblymen — Jim Cooper in California and Matthew Titone in New York — they were both encouraged by local DA offices to bring the bills to their respective legislatures. Neither bill has made any forward movement and both have a long way to go before becoming law.

It wouldn’t be easy to tailor phone encryption capabilities for specific states

The ENCRYPT Act likely won’t be the only encryption bill Capitol Hill sees this year. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), along with Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), vowed to bring a bill imposing limits on encrypted devices to the Senate this year. But perhaps two other senators might beat them to the punch and introduce a bill that would establish a national commission to study encryption. Regardless of what bills come first, it looks like the encryption war isn’t ending any time soon. If anything, it’s only now heating up.