US Senator introduces bill to ban government backdoors into devices

5 Dec 2014

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US Senator Ron Wyden has introduced a bill that prohibits the government from building backdoors into US software and electronics.

The Secure Data Act intends to protect the American public’s privacy and data security following last year’s scandal, when former CIA contractor Edward Snowden exposed mass surveillance programmes orchestrated by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

Wyden has pointed to a recent proposal by government officials that would compel companies to build backdoors in the security features of their products, calling it a threat to national security interest.

“Strong encryption and sound computer security is the best way to keep Americans’ data safe from hackers and foreign threats,” said Wyden in a statement.

“It is the best way to protect our constitutional rights at a time when a person’s whole life can often be found on his or her smartphone. And strong computer security can rebuild consumer trust that has been shaken by years of misstatements by intelligence agencies about mass surveillance of Americans.

“This bill sends a message to leaders of those agencies to stop recklessly pushing for new ways to vacuum up Americans’ private information, and instead put that effort into rebuilding public trust.”

FBI concerns

Both tech giants Apple and Google have in recent months announced they would be encrypting data on all smartphones by default. 

“I want to be absolutely clear that we have never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook in September. “We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will.”

In response, FBI director James Comey voiced his concerns on the steps the tech companies had made. 

“What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves above the law,” he said. “I get that the post-Snowden world has started an understandable pendulum swing. What I’m worried about is, this is an indication to us as a country and as a people that, boy, maybe that pendulum swung too far.”

According to Wyden, the legislation builds on a bipartisan effort in the US House of Representatives, which approved an amendment proposed by Representatives Thomas Massie and Zoe Lofgren to prohibit electronic vulnerability mandates in June.

Tablet security image via Shutterstock

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Dean is a freelance journalist and editor covering media.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com