Just a day after a prominent legal expert described the proposed anti-encryption Burr-Feinstein bill as unconstitutional, unenforceable and harmful, Apple has called the proposal ‘well-intentioned but ultimately unworkable.’

The description is in an open letter from the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, of which Apple is a key member, alongside companies such as Google, Dropbox, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter. The letter, addressed to the two Senators behind the proposed bill, explains why it would be harmful to the interests of both the U.S. people and American businesses …

We write to express our deep concerns about well-intentioned but ultimately unworkable policies around encryption that would weaken the very defenses we need to protect us from people who want to cause economic and physical harm.  We believe it is critical to the safety of the nation’s, and the world’s, information technology infrastructure for us all to avoid actions that will create government-mandated security vulnerabilities in our encryption systems.

The letter says that building in backdoors would ‘create opportunities for exploitation by bad actors’ and ‘push users to non-U.S. companies, in turn undermining the global competitiveness of the technology industry in the United States.’ It is also signed by three other industry coalitions.

The Burr-Feinstein bill – formally known as the Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016 – was last week published as a draft for discussion. It still has many stages to go to before reaching the floor of the Senate, something which is unlikely to happen before the elections, with one Senator vowing to filibuster it if it does get that far.

The Reform Government Surveillance coalition has five goals, including limiting the authority of governments to collect user data, ensuring transparency in government demands for access to same and ensuring a clear legal framework with appropriate checks and balances.

You can read the full text of the letter below.

Letter to Chairman Burr and Vice-Chairman Feinstein Regarding Encryption

April 19, 2016

The Honorable Richard Burr

Chairman

Select Committee on Intelligence

United States Senate

Washington, DC 20515

 The Honorable Dianne Feinstein

Vice-Chairman

Select Committee on Intelligence

United States Senate

Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Burr and Vice-Chairman Feinstein:

We write to express our deep concerns about well-intentioned but ultimately unworkable policies around encryption that would weaken the very defenses we need to protect us from people who want to cause economic and physical harm.  We believe it is critical to the safety of the nation’s, and the world’s, information technology infrastructure for us all to avoid actions that will create government-mandated security vulnerabilities in our encryption systems.

As member companies whose innovations help to drive the success and growth of the digital economy, we understand the need to protect our users’ physical safety and the safety of their most private information.   To serve both these interests, we adhere to two basic principles.    First, we respond expeditiously to legal process and emergency requests for data from government agencies. Second, we design our systems and devices to include a variety of network- and device-based features, including but not limited to strong encryption.  We do these things to protect users’ digital security in the face of threats from both criminals and governments.

Any mandatory decryption requirement, such as that included in the discussion draft of the bill that you authored, will to lead to unintended consequences.  The effect of such a requirement will force companies to prioritize government access over other considerations, including digital security.  As a result, when designing products or services, technology companies could be forced to make decisions that would create opportunities for exploitation by bad actors seeking to harm our customers and whom we all want to stop. The bill would force those providing digital communication and storage to ensure that digital data can be obtained in “intelligible” form by the government, pursuant to a court order.  This mandate would mean that when a company or user has decided to use some encryption technologies, those technologies will have to be built to allow some third party to potentially have access.  This access could, in turn, be exploited by bad actors.

It is also important to remember that such a technological mandate fails to account for the global nature of today’s technology. For example, no accessibility requirement can be limited to U.S. law enforcement; once it is required by the U.S., other governments will surely follow. In addition, the U.S. has no monopoly on these security measures.  A law passed by Congress trying to restrict the use of data security measures will not prevent their use.  It will only serve to push users to non-U.S. companies, in turn undermining the global competitiveness of the technology industry in the U.S. and resulting in more and more data being stored in other countries.

We support making sure that law enforcement has the legal authorities, resources, and training it needs to solve crime, prevent terrorism, and protect the public.  However, those things must be carefully balanced to preserve our customers’ security and digital information.  We are ready and willing to engage in dialogue about how to strike that balance, but remain concerned about efforts to prioritize one type of security over all others in a way that leads to unintended, negative consequences for the safety of our networks and our customers

Signed,

Reform Government Surveillance

Computer & Communications Industry Association

Internet Infrastructure Coalition (I2C)

The Entertainment Software Association

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