In what could force Apple Inc. and other mobile phone manufacturers to provide a "backdoor" for government law enforcement agencies to access data of encrypted devices, a draft bill titled "Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016" has been leaked from the U.S. Senate.
The draft bill, prepared by Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein, is about forcing companies to provide technical assistance to government investigators in unlocking an encrypted device if ordered by a court.
It comes at a time when "encryption" has turned into a hot topic for debate after Apple refused to follow a court order to help the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in its probe by providing the passcode required to unlock the iPhone 5C belonging to San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook.
"To uphold both the rule of law and protect the interests and security of the United States, all persons receiving an authorised judicial order for information or data must provide, in a timely manner, responsive, intelligible information or data, or appropriate technical assistance to obtain such information or data," stated one of the points mentioned in the discussion draft.
"The underlying goal is simple: when there's a court order to render technical assistance to law enforcement or provide decrypted information, that court order is carried out," they said in a joint statement obtained by Reuters. "No individual or company is above the law."
However, the draft encryption bill has been criticised by online privacy advocates even before it has been placed before the Congress. It is almost certain that technology community will fight to ensure that online privacy of people is not compromised.
"Instead of heeding the warnings of experts, the senators have written a bill that ignores economic, security, and technical reality. It would force companies to deliberately weaken the security of their products by providing backdoors into the devices and services that everyone relies on. Senators Burr and Feinstein should abandon their efforts to create a government backdoor," said Neema Singh Guliani, legislative council with the American Civil Liberties Union, in a statement (via Mashable).
"I gotta say in my nearly 20 years of work in tech policy this is easily the most ludicrous, dangerous, technically illiterate proposal I've ever seen," Kevin Bankston, the director of the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, told Wired.
Interestingly, technology giants, including Google and WhatsApp, have taken up steps to prevent hackers from gathering personal information of its users after former National Security Agency (NSA) and whistleblower Edward Snowden made a shocking revelation in 2013 that vast amounts of telephone and web information of internet users around the world were seized under the NSA programme known as PRISM.
Google has said that it has increased encryption of online content over the years and has been pushing for wider usage of HTTPS to stop interception of information. It said Safe Browsing, that has been protecting Gmail users, will be expanded to other products like Chrome, Android, Ads, and Google Analytics. Microblogging site Twitter has also introduced end-to-end encryption for all texts, voice calls and videos sent by its users to bar the security agencies from accessing content sent in the forum.