Tech Companies Could Face Civil Penalties

The U.S. Senate is currently drafting legislation that would make tech companies vulnerable to civil penalties in the event that they refuse to comply with court orders to assist investigators in accessing encrypted data.

This would by no means be the first anti-encryption bill to be proposed by Congress, but it would perhaps be one of the most influential if it were to pass.

As soon as next week, this legislation authored by Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein (the Republican and Democratic authorities of the Senate Intelligence Committee) may be introduced to the Senate.

diane ak47Companies like Apple, which is currently embroiled in a heavily covered dispute with the FBI over the government’s power to force the company to provide a backdoor to its encryption, would become exposed to contempt of court proceedings and/or similar penalties were the bill to be passed.

Apparently a select few senators are expected to circulate the legislation among interested parties over the next week with the intention to introduce the bill the following week. That said, this timetable is not final and will likely react to developments of the dispute as they come.

One more recent development: ex-NSA member and American whistle blower Edward Snowden recently chimed in regarding the dispute between the FBI and Apple, claiming that the government’s stance was “bullsh*t.”

Feinstein and Burr’s proposal would not seek criminal penalties. That said, it would likely face a difficult progression through the senate considering the gridlocked state of the American Congress is only worsened by the election year, plus Sillicon Valley, which ranks among the nation’s biggest lobbyists, will of course oppose the bill.

Tech companies have overwhelmingly come in support of Apple in the encryption debate, though Microsoft creator Bill Gates recently came out in support of the FBI. The Justice Department is hoping to gain access the iPhone belonging to deceased San Bernardino shooter Rizwan Farook.

Many have stated that the bill is very unlikely to find any traction within the U.S. House of Representatives. The House of Reps have historically voted in favor of supporting digital privacy rights, especially in the wake of revelations by Edward Snowden regarding government-sanctioned surveillance of communications.

richard burAlthough the FBI has claimed that it would only need Apple to create code to break into its own product for one particular case, many believe that this is a dishonest depiction of a precedent that could prove extremely influential over the course of our digital era; digital privacy, human rights, encryption, and democratic freedoms have become increasingly intertwined as the internet’s influence spreads across the globe.

The UN’s Commissioner for Human Rights recently stated that the FBI’s movement forward in the Apple case could potentially effect the rule of authoritarian regimes throughout the world. It’s becoming increasingly common for totalitarian governments to make encryption inaccessible to its citizens and to try to stamp out web anonymity. For the U.S., the nation that is basically the tech hub of the world, to join the ranks of these nations in how it deals with its own tech could create a ripple effect of diminished human rights.

The status of the bill remains amorphous, but the debate has become such a hot button issue that its spotlight status could either propel the bill forward or create an impassable barrier. Only time will tell.

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