Following Apple’s refusal to unlock an iPhone 5c used by one of the San Bernardino gunmen, the Wall Street Journal reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, a Republican out of North Carolina, plans to propose a new bill that would impose criminal penalties on companies that don’t comply with those types of orders. Citing people familiar with the matter, the report says that Burr’s plan isn’t finalized yet and that it’s unclear how many other lawmakers support the idea.
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Apple on Tuesday was ordered by a U.S. magistrate judge to give the FBI access to a passcode-locked iPhone 5c used by one of the San Bernardino gunmen. CEO Tim Cook then argued in an open-letter posted on Apple’s that the company would not comply with the order, saying it doesn’t want to create such a dangerous tool.
While the bill is likely far off from being officially voted on, it signals just how monumental this issue has become in both Silicon Valley and Washington D.C. The bill, the report claims, could be written as a modification to the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which was originally imposed in 1994. This law suggests that companies develop their communication systems so that law enforcement agencies are able to gain access with a proper court order.
Burr has long been a proponent of forcing technology companies to work more closely with government agencies when it comes to accessing data on locked devices. He worked with Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, in December to propose a bill that would require social media companies to report terrorist activity. That bill, however, has yet to advance. In New York, a bill has been proposed that would force companies to give the government access to user devices, or else face punishment.
On the other side of the aisle, Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee, is more open when it comes to the issue. He suggests that “the court’s decision will likely accelerate our consideration of how to weigh the competing privacy, security and competitiveness issues,” noting that a legislative approach to the issue is “neither feasible or even desirable” (via Reuters).
The Reuters report also notes that the House Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing on encryption on March 1st and has invited Apple to attend. That hearing won’t be the first tim Apple has met with the U.S. government on encryption. Meanwhile, a new petition is urging the White House to back Apple in the case.