09.10.15

Top House Intel Dem: Silicon Valley asking for encryption proposal (The Hill)

Silicon Valley is urging the government to present a proposed solution to the so-called “going dark” problem, in which law enforcement is worried criminals will use encryption to hide nefarious activities.

“Why don’t they give us a proposal and let us weigh in on it,” was the message Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he received when he met with top officials from Facebook, Google and Twitter last week.

During remarks Thursday at Intelligence and National Security Summit, Schiff mentioned that he sat down recently with tech sector leaders to discuss the industry’s increasing use of encryption to secure both communications and devices.

In the wake of the disclosure of massive government surveillance programs, leading tech firms have rapidly moved to adopt encryption that blocks even them from accessing customer information.

They argue such provisions are necessary to secure sensitive data from snooping cyber criminals and government spies.

But law enforcement officials are worried robust encryption also keeps out officials conducting legitimate terrorist and criminal investigations, posing a national security threat. For instance, it was revealed this week that Apple rejected a court order to turn over communications sent using its iMessage feature, citing the company’s encryption system.

As a result, the administration has pressed tech companies to come up with a solution where they can guarantee the government access to locked data, while still maintaining robust encryption standards.

FBI Director James Comey made the plea in a recent Capitol Hill double header.

The message didn’t go over well on the West Coast, Schiff said.

“They framed it, and with some discomfort, as the intelligence community is coming to us and saying, ‘You’re brilliant, figure it out.’”

Technologists have uniformly maintained any solution would weaken worldwide security and hurt the competitiveness of U.S. companies overseas.

So instead, the tech set wants to see ideas from the intelligence community.

It’s a rare message to hear from the private sector, Schiff said.

“We’re often hearing the opposite, 'Let us come up with the answer,'” he said.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), speaking on the same panel, echoed his colleague's surprise.

“That’s fascinating,” he said. “That's the first I’ve heard that.”

Schiff understands where Silicon Valley is coming from.

“Look, there’s an economic alignment of their philosophy and their business here,” he said. “I don’t think that they want to be in the business of trying to come up with a solution.”

“It’s not in their economic interest," Schiff added.

And Congress can’t do much to help either, they said.

It’s not politically feasible or even desirable for Congress to step in with its own offering, Schiff said.

“It will be very complex for the Congress to come up with any solutions,” Nunes agreed.

That means the coastal fight over encryption is long from being settled, both intelligence leaders agreed.

“It makes the metadata debate we just had look trivial by comparison,” Schiff said.


By:  Cory Bennett
Source: The Hill