On Thursday evening, the draft text of a bill called the “Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016,” authored by offices of Senators Diane Feinstein and Richard Burr, was published online by the Hill.1 It’s a nine-page piece of legislation that would require people to comply with any authorized court order for data—and if that data is “unintelligible,” the legislation would demand that it be rendered “intelligible.” In other words, the bill would make illegal the sort of user-controlled encryption that’s in every modern iPhone, in all billion devices that run Whatsapp’s messaging service, and in dozens of other tech products. “This basically outlaws end-to-end encryption,” says Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology. “It’s effectively the most anti-crypto bill of all anti-crypto bills.”
Kevin Bankston, the director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, goes even further: “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,” he says.
The bill, Hall and Bankston point out, doesn’t specifically suggest any sort of backdoored encryption or other means to even attempt to balance privacy and encryption, and actually claims to not require any particular design limitations on products. Instead, it states only that communications firms must provide unencrypted data to law enforcement or the means for law enforcement to grab that data themselves. “To uphold the rule of law and protect the security and interests of the United States, all persons receiving an authorized judicial order for information or data must provide, in a timely manner, responsive and intelligible information or data, or appropriate technical assistance to obtain such information or data.”