FBI Must Stop Stifling Innovation, Say Congressmen Lieu and Hurd

June 4, 2015—Earlier this week, Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), who serves as Chairman of the Government Oversight Committee’s Information and Technology Subcommittee, and committee member Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) penned a letter to FBI Director James Comey.

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In an effort to urge liejuhurdthe bureau to avoid stifling innovation, the congressmen reminded Comey that pressing the tech industry to weaken their systems is a disservice to security.

To Lieu and Hurd, both computer science majors, a backdoor offering the U.S. government tools to circumvent encryption technology will make America less safe:

“… it is our belief that backdoors can be easily circumvented by terrorists and criminals who can purchase outside encryption applications or communications devices from foreign manufacturers who do not have to follow U.S. law.”

To both lawmakers, urging the government to put a restriction on technology development could create negative consequences. Opening access to law enforcement creates an opening that could be explored by bad elements. If the FBI is serious about U.S. security, pressing the industry to develop vulnerable technology on purpose is counterproductive.

But to House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), his colleagues are full of it.

During the “Terrorism Gone Viral” hearing concerning the possibility of lone-wolf terrorists attacking US-based technology, McCaul called the use of encrypted communication a “tremendous threat to the homeland.”

To the Texas Republican, the “dark space” created by encryption makes it impossible for the government to monitor what users are communicating in these dark spaces.

In an interview with The Intercept, Lieu said McCaul’s comments are meant to make you feel scared:

“When they talk about dark places, ooooh it sounds really scary! But you have a dark place in your home you can talk, you can meet in a park—there are a zillion dark places the FBI will never get to and they shouldn’t because we don’t want to be monitored in our home.”

To the California Democrat,llieuhurdfearing encryption is not different from fearing paper shredders, after all “paper shredders are one of the most damaging things to national security because they destroy documents that law enforcement might want to see.”

Fortunately for privacy advocates, Reps. Lieu and Hurd are not the only House lawmakers seeking to restrain intelligence agencies. On Wednesday, Rep. Thomas Massie’s amendment prohibiting the use of funds by the National Institute of Standards and Technology to consult with the National Security Agency or the CIA to alter cryptographic or computer standards was successfully added to H.R.288.

According to Massie, his amendment helps restrain federal agencies that, like the FBI, want to press the tech industry to add backdoors to software used by common Americans. To Massie, this is an important step to keep Americans safe from government snooping.

Should the tech industry be forced to add backdoors to its software? Unleash your thoughts below. 

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