US anti-backdoor bill: If at first you're shot down in flames – try, try again

Second Secure Data Act bid hopes to keep Uncle Sam from tapping mobes, gadgets, etc

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Lawmakers in the US are making an effort to revive legislation that would ban government agencies from demanding backdoor access to hardware, websites and software.

Under the proposed Secure Data Act, developers cannot be forced to insert security holes into devices and code. The FBI, for one, would like to use such flaws to hijack phones and other gadgets, view their contents and snoop on their owners – hackers would like to use these vulnerabilities, too.

The bill is sponsored by Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY), and was reintroduced into the House of Representatives on Wednesday. Last year's attempt, which died at the subcommittee stage, can be found here, and sought to "prohibit federal agencies from mandating the deployment of vulnerabilities in data security technologies."

"Congress has allowed the administration’s surveillance authorities to go unchecked by failing to enact adequate reform," the trio said in a statement this week, announcing the reintroduction of the bill to the House.

"With threats to our homeland ever prevalent, we should not tie the hands of the intelligence community. But unwarranted, backdoor surveillance is indefensible.

"The Secure Data Act is an important step in rebuilding public trust in our intelligence agencies and striking the appropriate balance between national security and civil liberty."

Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, believes the 2015 version of the bill has a decent chance to pass a House vote.

A tweak to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act last year that sorta did the same thing as the Secure Data Act passed 293-123 in the House, but didn't make it past the omnibus budget stage.

"Last year, there was a similar amendment and it passed overwhelmingly," Guliani told The Reg. "That is a pretty strong indication that at least in the House they know how important it is to secure encryption efforts."

A related bill (simplified) introduced to the Senate in December by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) didn't get very far.

However, he reintroduced the Secure Data Act of 2015 to the Senate in January this year. It's awaiting approval by the Senate's Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation before it can progress any further. ®


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