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Congressional bill could make it illegal to ban encryption

While the national debate on whether encryption is a tool for terrorists or a worthwhile security measure for everyone’s digital data, some state legislators have been looking to weaken it as best they can to bolster law enforcement. That may be harder than they thought however, as a new bill proposed in Congress would block all attempts to legislate back doors into products at the state level.

The bill, introduced by Democratic representative Ted Lieu and Republican representative Blake Farenthold, is called the Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016. While quite a mouthful in name, it’s even stronger in action, as if passed, it would prevent the altering of security functions of products or services to allow surveillance, and would make it illegal for state or political representatives to demand the ability to decrypt communications.

Although such a bill would need to pass through the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as be given the all clear by the President by being signed into law, the bill has already received a lot of praise from privacy advocates.

Related: We’re not ‘going dark’: Harvard study refutes FBI’s view on encryption

Andrew Crocker, attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said in a chat with Ars that he believes this bill demonstrates that some politicians at least are listening to experts when it comes to encryption and digital security. Unfortunately he said: “We also have lawmakers who are instead proposing vague and/or ineffective ‘solutions’ to that fundamental concern.”

It’s that lack of understanding that is causing so many problems with the debate on encryption/decryption he said.

It’s hoped that this bill will be passed in time to combat the two recently proposed, state-level bills in California and New York, which would effectively ban the sale of devices that allowed end-to-end encryption without the ability of law enforcement to easily crack it open. That would effectively make it illegal to sell iPhones and most Android handsets within those two states unless the relevant manufacturers altered the designs.

Some however believe the bill may not go far enough to block them. It’s been suggested that while this bill might halt the mandated altering of devices, it does nothing to block the sale of hardware capable of strong encryption.

If that is the case though, it may be that Lieu will push for even tighter controls. He’s been a strong champion for encryption since being elected in 2014 and is one of only four members of the House with a degree in computer science — so you know he understands what he’s talking about.