WASHINGTON – Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) pledged to “shut down” the U.S. Senate over any legislation that would require private companies to create a “back door” to access encrypted information because “it would be such a grave mistake.”
“I recently asked a question of the Director of National Intelligence [Dan Coats] with respect to encryption and they said that they had not ‘to date’ sought an order to compel a provider to alter encryption, so it sounds to me like the government still thinks that FISA can be used to weaken strong encryption,” Wyden said during a government surveillance and privacy discussion at George Washington University last week with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
“I want you to know, and I think Sen. Paul agrees with me, how important it is to protect strong encryption and not allow the government to say that there ought to be back doors and require companies to build back doors into their products. Rod Rosenstein recently said, and he’s a Justice Department fellow, ‘we’ve got to get back to looking at responsible encryption,’ which struck me as code for saying the government thought it could require companies to build back doors to their products,” he added.
Wyden, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, vowed to filibuster any legislative attempt to require companies to build a “back door” that could be used to retrieve encrypted data.
“If there is any legislation to require companies to build back doors into their products – because I think it’s wrong from a security standpoint, I think it’s wrong from a liberty standpoint and I think it’s wrong from an economic standpoint – I will filibuster that bill. I will shut down the United States Senate,” Wyden declared to applause from the audience of college students.
In response to Wyden’s comments, Paul quipped, “Ron, you are such a radical. You are making me look like the moderate.”
Paul said that Congress should exercise more oversight of the intelligence community. He applauded Wyden for trying to get answers on surveillance issues from intelligence officials during public hearings.
“You need to make sure that there is restraint. You always have to imagine the worst could happen. We interned 100,000 Japanese in World War II. We have made mistakes. World War I, you know, mistake after mistake after mistake, people put in jail for 20 years for opposing World War I,” Paul said.
“So we’ve made these mistakes in our past – they do happen in times of war and we absolutely need the oversight, not because the majority of them are bad but because we’re trying to prevent the one person that could use the system to say, ‘hey, we don’t like gay people or black people or Jewish people or Christian people,’ you name it,” he added. “You could be part of a group if you are in a minority of thought or a minority of color or a minority of any form, and so we have to have these controls.”
Following the event, Wyden told PJM it’s “horrifying” that the Justice Department “seems to want to get back into the business” of requiring companies to create a back door into their products such as smartphones as a way to bypass encryption.
“This administration constantly seems to be suggesting you can either have security or liberty, and what we feel strongly about is that ought to be rejected out of hand,” Wyden said.
The back door requirement, the senator noted, was “essentially” what Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein “was talking about when he was calling for responsible encryption again.”
“I was very pleased with Sen. Paul’s answer when I talked about how I’m going to filibuster that kind of effort if somebody tries it.”