You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience.

The White House isn't behind a bill that would force Apple to hack iPhones

The draft bill would empower judges to force companies including Apple to crack encrypted data, but the White House isn't in support of the proposed legislation
April 7, 2016

It looks like the White House is not going to offer public support to a draft bill that would force Apple (and others) to crack smartphones at government request, a recent report notes.

The news comes from Reuters, which, in an article citing “sources familiar with the discussions,” explains that the White House is indeed refusing to offer public support for the draft legislation. At the minute, Senators Richard Burr and Dianne “the-Achilles-heel-in-the-Internet-is-encryption” Feinstein are looking to introduce the draft bill as soon as next week. It would, as Reuters explains, allow federal judges “broad authority to order tech companies to help the government,” but it doesn't explicitly highlight the specifics of how companies might be ordered to comply. “It also does not create specific penalties for noncompliance,” the publication adds.

Although the White House has reviewed the text and offered feedback, it is expected to provide minimal public input, if any, the sources said.

Its stance is partly a reflection of a political calculus that any encryption bill would be controversial and is unlikely to go far in a gridlocked Congress during an election year, sources said.

Apple still hasn't been told how the FBI got into the suspect's iPhone 5c.

Of course, the news comes after a separate article earlier today noted that the FBI is now briefing senators on its elusive method for unlocking the controversial iPhone 5c in the San Bernardino case. So far, Feinstein has reportedly received the briefing; Burr has been invited, too, but hasn't taken up the offer. Apple, on the other hand, is anxious to understand how the suspect's iPhone was compromised (in order to patch the security flaw through an update), but the FBI has yet to brief the company.

Perhaps the FBI feels that, since Apple didn't help the government in unlocking the suspect's iPhone in the first place, it shouldn't help Apple in return. This, however, is a matter of public security, and whether the FBI's method is limited to the iPhone 5c or not, that's nevertheless a lot of people's smartphones which could be at risk.

Other companies have been scrambling to bolster their own encryption in the wake of “Apple vs. the FBI,” but the aforementioned bill, if passed, would nevertheless force all companies to comply if a judge deems it necessary for data to be un-encrypted in a given case. The White House's refusal to back the bill is perhaps more telling than we think.