Tech Titans Slam Encryption Bill as 'Unworkable'

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Some of the biggest names in tech are fighting a draft bill that would make it possible for US courts to demand help bypassing encryption.

A letter penned by Reform Government Surveillance, the Computer & Communications Industry Association, Internet Infrastructure Coalition, and the Entertainment Software Association argues that the proposal from Sens. Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein is "unworkable."

Released last week, the bill would force companies like Apple and Google to comply with court orders for access to products and services. The move, according to Feinstein and Burr, is intended to "protect Americans from criminals and terrorists," but detractors argue it's nothing more than legalizing a backdoor into private data.

"We believe it is critical to the safety of the nation's, and the world's, information technology infrastructure for us all to avoid actions that will create government-mandated security vulnerabilities in our encryption systems," the tech companies said in their letter.

The groups represent companies like Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Amazon, eBay, Netflix, Samsung, Nintendo, and more. They argue that a mandatory decryption requirement like this one "will lead to unintended consequences."

"The effect of such a requirement will force companies to prioritize government access over other considerations, including digital security," their letter said, suggesting manufacturers would be forced to "create opportunities" for exploitation.

The groups say they are "ready and willing to engage in dialogue about how to strike that balance, but remain concerned about efforts to prioritize one type of security over all others in a way that leads to unintended, negative consequences for the safety of our networks and our customers."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation agrees, and last week called for people to email their members of Congress and demand they reject the bill.

The issue stems from Apple's scuffle with the FBI over access to the iPhone 5c owned by one of the San Bernardino shooters. Since Apple's operating system has been encrypted since iOS 8, the company has no easy way of opening devices running the updated OS. To do so would require Cupertino to create an alternative operating system that would hack its own encryption—something CEO Tim Cook said would put other iPhone owners at risk and be the software equivalent of cancer.

Ultimately, the government was able to crack the iPhone without assistance from Apple, reportedly by hiring hackers to do the job. Officials have reportedly not yet found anything useful on the handset in question.

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