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New bill might force Apple to hack encrypted iPhones

Published Apr 8th, 2016 9:00PM EDT
iPhone Encryption Laws USA

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The FBI has abandoned its court battle with Apple for the time being, after figuring out how to hack the San Bernardino iPhone without Apple’s help. However, the fight over smartphone encryption is not over, and there’s a new proposal that seeks to regulate law enforcement’s access to encrypted devices and Internet products.

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The Senate Intelligence Committee’s chair Richard Burr and vice-chair Dianne Feinstein are working on the bill, and a discussion draft of the bill began circulating on Thursday, Business Insider reports.

The draft has a few key points that explain how the U.S. government wants to hack legally encrypted iPhones or any other devices. The law would force tech companies to decrypt encrypted data when presented with a court order, and to provide technical assistance required to decode the information. Companies will be offered compensation for their efforts, but the bill does not provide any technical guidance on how companies should do it.

The bill would force tech companies to “provide such information to such government in an intelligible format; or provide such technical assistance as is necessary to obtain such information or data in an intelligible format to achieve the purpose of the court order,” when a court order is issued.

A report from Reuters earlier this week said that the White House won’t endorse the Feinstein-Burr proposal, but it won’t publicly oppose it either.

The proposal has already been met with criticism on social media and from security experts. “Silicon Valley should be embarrassed by its Senator’s anti-encryption bill, which would undermine security, innovation, & the tech economy,” security researcher Matt Blaze Kevin Bankston wrote.

“It’s not hard to see why the White House declined to endorse Feinstein-Burr. They took a complex issue, arrived at the most naive solution,” John Hopkins cryptography professor Matthew Green said on Twitter.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.