Secure Data Act Reintroduced

The bipartisan Secure Data Act was reintroduced in the House Thursday (May 10).

The bill would prevent law enforcement agencies and courts from forcing tech companies to put encryption work-arounds (so-called "back doors") into communications devices so they could be accessed in investigations into criminal activity.

Products covered by the bill are "any computer hardware, computer software, or electronic device that is made available to the general public."

Related: DOJ's Rosenstein Hammers Warrant-Proof Encryption

Encryption is about securing user data on devices; backdoors are about circumventing those when law enforcement argues it is necessary.

Co-sponsoring the bill were Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who reitroduced the act, joined by original sponors Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y), Ted Poe (R-Texas), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.).

"U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies have requested, required, and even sought court orders against individuals and companies to build a 'backdoor,' weakening secure encryption in their product or service to assist in electronic surveillance," Lofgren and Massie said in a joint announcement. "Today’s legislation comes on the heels of a troubling Department of Justice Office of Inspector General report calling into question the Federal Bureau of Investigation's handling of Syed Rizwan Farook’s locked iPhone in the wake of the 2015 San Bernardino attack which suggested that FBI officials did not pursue available technical solutions to access Farook’s iPhone because the FBI preferred obtaining a precedent-setting court judgement compelling Apple to weaken their product encryption."

There is an exception for requests under CALEA, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act.

"The Secure Data Act will help ensure that in a time of heightened threats to national and digital security, users and businesses are able to rely on strong encryption without the risk of imposed vulnerabilities," said the Computer & Communications Industry Association. "Trust in the integrity and security of the internet, including its infrastructure and users, is essential to its vitality as a global platform for free expression and commerce. A fundamental aspect of that security is the encryption that protects sensitive information, communications, and transactions at rest and in transit."

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.