The White House will not be supporting draft legislation that would allow courts to force tech companies like Apple to help law enforcement hack into encrypted devices, reports Reuters.

The Senate Intelligence Committee in February announced plans to impose criminal penalties on companies that fail to comply with court orders like the one challenged by Apple and finally withdrawn by the FBI. Remarks by President Obama last month appeared to suggest he would support the proposed legislation, but it now appears this isn’t the case …

The FBI has been pressing for the legislation, briefing two Senators working on the bill on the method used to crack the iPhone 5c in the San Bernardino case. If I were to speculate on the purpose of the briefing, I’d say it would be to persuade the Senators that the method used is a difficult one that would not work with later iPhones, thus providing additional ammunition for their case.

President Obama previously spoke of the difficult balancing act between privacy and security, but his comments then suggested that was siding against Apple.

The question we now have to ask is, if technologically it is possible to make an impenetrable device or system where the encryption is so strong that there is no key, there’s no door, at all, then how do we apprehend the child pornographer, how do we solve, or disrupt a terrorist plot, what mechanisms to we have available to do simple things like tax enforcement… if government can’t get in, then everyone’s walking around with a Swiss bank account in their pocket… there has to be some concession to the need to be able to get into that information somehow.

But the Reuters reports indicates that Obama does not believe the government should go so far as to criminalize refusal to assist law enforcement to hack into devices.

The White House is declining to offer public support for draft legislation that would empower judges to require technology companies such as Apple Inc to help law enforcement crack encrypted data, sources familiar with the discussions said.

TNW says its sources suggest the planned bill is in any case unlikely to make it through Congress before the election.

Sources familiar with the matter say that the proposed bill isn’t likely to go far in a gridlocked Congress during an election year.

This battle looks set to continue for quite some time yet.

Photo: Diego Cambiaso

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