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Growing storm clouds over US encryption bills

Security experts have criticised the controversial encryption bill after an editorial piece appeared in the [url;=http://www.wsj.com/articles/encryption-without-tears-1461798028]Wall Street Journal[/url], written by the two senators who put it forward.

In the article titled “Encryption Without Tears” Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein fought back against growing criticism of their Compliance with Court Orders Act, which, if passed, would force tech companies to provide authorities with user data in a readable format if served with a warrant.

Criticism comes in the form of leading Silicon Valley businesses and civil-society groups who state that it would mean the banning of end-to-end encryption and promote weak encryption, which police and intelligence officials say would help the fight against criminals and terrorists.

The debate has grown since the Justice Department demanded Apple's assistance in bypassing a dead terrorist's phone. Although a way was eventually found through a third party, the debate that ensued brought the bill to the forefront after a decade long battle between law enforcement agencies and tech companies.

Tech giant Apple, angered at the way the government has approached encryption, is now considering adding end-to-end encryption to its iCloud service. The company's top lawyer told a committee on 20 April 2016 that while “no decision had made, the security upgrade might be inevitable.”

However, Jonathan Ździarski, a forensic scientist and the author of several security publications for O'Reilly Media, wrote that the current laws already make it clear that law enforcement can request data. “Our existing laws on the books already allow for the type of data that a business collects to be provided to law enforcement under an order," he said. "It is the data that companies have not collected that this legislation is targeting — private information under the control of the user."

Indeed, the current backlash to the Burr-Feinstein bill reflects the seemingly intractability of the two sides in this argument. "If the Senators honestly believe what they’re saying," Ździarski wrote, "then they’re woefully ignorant of not only the technology they’re legislating on, but also on existing legislation and case law."

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