House committees form crypto working group, not commission

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Two powerful House committee chairmen jumped into the encryption debate Monday: The House Judiciary Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee have formed a bipartisan working group that will look at the legal and policy issues around the hot-button issue.

The move appears to be a blow to efforts by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, to get legislation passed that would create a blue-ribbon commission to study encryption instead.

In a press release, the committees say the group “will identify potential solutions that preserve the benefits of strong encryption – including the protection of Americans’ privacy and information security – while also ensuring law enforcement has the tools needed to keep us safe and prevent crime.”

The eight members of the group are:

  • Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.
  • Darrell Issa, R-Calif.
  • Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. 
  • Suzan DelBene, D-Wash. 
  • Bill Johnson, R-Ohio
  • Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill.
  • Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y.
  • Joe Kennedy, D-Mass.

The authors of the effort are House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., Ranking Member John Conyers. D-Mich., House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton R-Mich., and Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr., D-N.J. The four released a statement Monday, saying they recognize the challenges on both sides of the argument.

“The widespread use of strong encryption is important to protecting Americans’ privacy,” the statement reads. “We also recognize that challenges remain for law enforcement agencies seeking to disrupt criminals and terrorists from doing us harm… Members will work toward finding solutions that allow law enforcement agencies to fulfill their responsibility without harming the competitiveness of the U.S. technology sector or the privacy and security that encryption provides for U.S. citizens.”

DelBene, who spoke with FedScoop about encryption last week at South By Southwest, said Monday she’s “glad to see congressional leaders finally prioritizing the update of technology laws to work in a modern world.”

“As a former executive in mobile communications, I can tell you encryption makes us more secure, not less, DelBene said. “That’s why I’ve repeatedly called for all sides – including lawmakers, industry leaders, privacy advocates, security experts and law enforcement – to come together and ensure we’re doing everything we can to protect our national security and privacy.”

The group comes as Warner and McCaul, the latter chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, are trying to get backing for their legislation, S 2604 and HR 4651, to create a digital security commission to examine how lawmakers could shape the future of encryption. 

The press release issued by the committees seemed to give the cold shoulder to that commission, stating “The House Judiciary Committee and Energy and Commerce Committee have primary jurisdiction over encryption and the issues it presents for citizens, law enforcement and American technology companies.”

A Judiciary Committee aide told POLITICO earlier this month that the committee had no plans to markup the Warner/McCaul bill.

Contact the reporter on this story via email at greg.otto@fedscoop.com, or follow him on Twitter at @gregotto. His OTR and PGP info can be found here. Subscribe to the Daily Scoop for stories like this in your inbox every morning by signing up here: fdscp.com/sign-me-on.

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Cybersecurity, encryption, Tech
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