New US bill could force smartphone companies to break encryption for law enforcement

US legislators from the House and Senate published the text for a new bill they’re considering, on Friday, that would require smartphone companies to decrypt data whenever law enforcement demands. The bill has not yet been introduced in Congress, but it does indicate the American government is pursuing the recent debate regarding encryption it breached with Apple.
While it does not specify if the companies involved face any civil or criminal penalties for failure to comply, it does state that they “must provide in a timely manner responsive, intelligible information or data, or appropriate technical assistance to obtain such information.” Although no companies have been named in the bill, it’s a clear shot across the bow at Apple, close on the heels of the recent case involving the FBI’s directive to the company to unlock an iPhone used by a terror suspect in the San Bernadino mass shooting case.

If passed into law, the bill will make it a lot harder for smartphone companies to resist legal directives to break their own encryption, as any court in the country will have jurisdiction to order compliance. It will also make hard encryption, security measures a maker company puts into place so it cannot itself tap into users’ phones, illegal. Apple CEO Tim Cook already addressed the issue multiple times over the past month, insisting that breaking the company’s encryption or building a back door for law enforcement would create the “software equivalent of cancer.” Smartphone companies would no more be able to guarantee their users security or privacy, especially as there’s no reasonable expectation that such an exploit would never leak to malicious actors in the public sphere.

Thankfully though, the bill still faces opposition, with US President Obama himself indicating his opposition to it, according to a Reuters report. However, that isn’t stopping law enforcement and courts from attempting to set precedent for anti-encryption, as evidenced by their recent demands to Apple to crack iPhones in at least two other cases.