New Bill Will Block Government from Mandating Back Doors into Encrypted Data

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced a new bill this week that would block government agencies from forcing companies to install back doors into their devices and data storage services to give investigators quick access to user data. The bill, dubbed the Secure Data Act, would effectively shut down efforts by the FBI and other agencies to require fundamentally unsecure encryption systems so they could more easily sift through the information on our smartphones and in our email accounts.

Senator Wyden doesn't want government back door access to our personal dataSenator Wyden doesn't want government back door access to our personal data

Senator Wyden has been a strong proponent of personal digital privacy and has spoken out against the current state of surveillance saying,

Let me be clear: It is time to end the digital dragnet, which harms American liberty and the American economy without making the country safer.

Apple and Google have both taken a firm stance against unfettered government access to their customer's data. Apple has gone so far as to develop encryption systems for the iPhone and Messages app that it can't sidestep, effectively locking itself out of our personal data.

That has officials such as FBI Director James Comey up in arms and saying Apple is putting its customers above the law.

"I am a huge believer in the rule of law. But I am also a believer that no one in this country is above the law," Mr. Comey said. "What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves above the law."

He also went to the save-the-children-defence by saying Apple was making it easier for kidnappers by creating "a closet that could never be opened," meaning the iPhone's encryption keeps law enforcement agencies from getting at evidence to stop kidnappers.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole from the U.S. Department of Justice joined the chorus saying that children would die because Apple refused to build a back door into the iPhone's encryption.

Senator Wyden's bill, if passed in its current form, would put an end to law enforcement pressure to force device makers to include back doors. The bill would help prevent unwarranted government surveillance, at least to a degree, but opponents fear it will lead to more crime and terrorist acts.

Those are misguided concerns, according to the Senator. He sees strong encryption without hidden back door access as a critical part of national security and an important piece in protecting civil rights. "This bill sends a message to leaders of those agencies to stop recklessly pushing for new ways to vacuum up Americans' private information, and instead put that effort into rebuilding public trust," he said.

Senator Wyden's bill isn't the ultimate solution to unfettered government surveillance, but it is a step in the right direction. Widespread warrantless data collection goes beyond our smartphones and needs to be addressed on a larger scale. That said, the fight has to start somewhere, and imposing limitations on what government agencies can force device makers to do is a big part of that.