Privacy Advocates Aim to Use Defense Spending Bill to Protect Encryption

A bipartisan effort is underway in the House to use the Defense appropriations bill to protect the use of encryption in electronic devices.

Eighteen House lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, are backing an amendment to the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2017 spending measure that would prohibit any agent of the National Security Agency or Central Intelligence Agency from requiring or requesting a company or person to “alter its product or service” to assist the federal government’s intelligence operations.

The amendment, which is one of 75 slated for consideration on the House floor, would bar those agencies from mandating a company weaken or break its encryption to allow investigators to retrieve valuable communications. The U.S. government also wouldn’t be able to gather information on Americans using a provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) filed the amendment, which has the support of Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.).

Similar provisions were adopted in the fiscal year 2015 and 2016 Defense spending bills; both times the language was stripped from the omnibus bills eventually passed by Congress.

The House is expected to vote on amendments to the Defense funding bill, H.R. 5293, on Thursday.

Massie and Lofgren’s amendment has the support of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology. Those organizations joined other advocacy groups in a Wednesday letter to House leadership urging them to adopt the amendment.

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