AG Barr Hails House Bill Banning Warrant-Proof Encryption

Attorney General Bill Barr

Attorney General Bill Barr

Invoking child sexual abuse and the pandemic, Attorney General Bill Barr is praising the introduction of a bill that would require tech companies to give law enforcement access to encrypted data. 

It is an issue AGs from both the Obama and Trump Administrations have hammered Apple over. 

Related: AG Barr Again Calls for Access to iPhones 

Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) has introduced the Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act, which would disallow warrant-proof encryption. It is a companion to a similar Senate bill introduced by Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). 

Tech companies--Apple is the poster-company--have resisted building encryption back doors into their devices.  

“I applaud Representative Wagner for introducing this critical lawful access legislation. Although strong encryption is vital, we cannot allow the tech industry to use encryption that blinds law enforcement and prevents it from thwarting or investigating serious crimes and national security threats, including terrorist plots, cyber attacks, and sexual exploitation," said Barr.   

Related: Barr Says Warrant-Proof Encryption Aids Sexual Exploitation 

The danger is particularly great for children, especially during this time of coronavirus restrictions when children are spending more time online. "Survivors of child sexual abuse and their families have pleaded with technology companies to do more to prevent predators from exploiting their platforms to harm children. Unfortunately, these companies have not done enough, which is why this legislation is needed." 

“Bad actors, especially child predators and human traffickers, have taken full advantage of warrant-proof encryption and other technological advances to hide their criminal activities from law enforcement at the expense of innocent victims," said Wagner and Graham in a joint statement. "It is time tech companies stand with criminal investigators and the public to make clear they are committed to rooting out perpetrators who use their services to commit horrific crimes." 

The law would require tech companies to help law enforcement get access to data if they had a warrant, encourage developing strong encryption that still allows for such access, and training law enforcement on how to access such data. 

"I am confident that the tech industry can design strong encryption that allows for lawful access by law enforcement," said Barr.   

The legislators argue the law balances privacy, public safety and due process. The bill is supported by various police, sheriffs and district attorneys groups, as well as the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. 

Related: Comey Says Warrant-Proof Spaces Are Problematic 

The Trump and Obama Administrations are not on the same page on most issues, but both have fought warrant-less encryption and had their run-ins with Apple over trying to get access to phone data.  

Back in May, Barr made Apple's refusal to build government back-doors into information on its iPhone part of the lead of his announcement on the December shooting at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. He said Apple's practice of warrant-less encryption is "dangerous" and "unacceptable."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.