Byline: Elise Viebeck
A House bill introduced Tuesday would prohibit the government from requiring so-called back doors in technology to assist in investigations and surveillance.
The measure from Reps. Ted Poe (R-Texas), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) represents a marker in the debate over law enforcement access to protected data that is currently taking place between the federal government and Silicon Valley.
By prohibiting the government from forcing tech firms such as Google and Apple to create openings in their security, the bill would swiftly end a major source of controversy that has come to define relationships between the tech world and the Obama administration.
Law enforcement officials favor back doors as a way to ensure that investigators can have access to users’ private data at a time when encryption is on the rise.
Tech firms have been ramping up encryption and other privacy protections, meanwhile, in a rebuke to the government surveillance efforts revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
“The NSA has and will continue to violate the constitutional protections guaranteed to every American unless Congress intervenes,” said Rep. Poe, the measure’s lead sponsor, in a statement.
“Until we fix this and make the law clear, citizens can never be sure that their private conversations are safe from the eyes of the government.”
The legislation would also require the government to obtain a court order before searching for information about Americans in databases collected under foreign surveillance authorities.
Privacy advocates embraced the bill.
“Support for the reforms in this bill has echoed through the halls of the House for over a year,” said Kevin Bankston, Policy Director at New America’s Open Technology Institute, in a statement.
“Now it’s up to House leaders to act on their members’ and the American people’s demands that Congress protect the security of their personal devices and block warrantless searches of their private data.”
The bill is similar to an amendment offered during last week’s House markup of the USA FREEDOM Act, a bill to reform NSA surveillance programs and end the agency’s bulk data collection. That measure is due for a House vote next week and is expected to pass.
Reps. Massive and Lofgren introduced another similar bill as an amendment to last year’s Pentagon appropriations bill.