Skip to main content

California bill forcing companies to unlock devices has been abandoned

enisa encryption report condemns backdoors protects your most private data
In a small win for the tech industry, California legislators just defeated a bill that would have imposed penalties on companies that refused to provide access into encrypted services and devices for criminal investigations.

The bill didn’t get a vote, according to the Sacremento Bee, and died after members of the Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection decided that weakening encrypted services would be a bad move for data security.

Currently, Senator Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., and Senator Richard Burr, R-N.C., are drafting a federal bill similar to the now-defunct California bill. A draft of the bill was leaked last week and prompted strong backlash from legal and tech experts.

The root of the issue was brought to national attention earlier this year when Apple refused to assist the FBI in offering a backdoor into an iPhone used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. The FBI dropped the California case after the agency paid professional “gray hat” hackers to break into the iPhone 5C.

The ongoing battle between Apple and the FBI isn’t over though, as the FBI said it still needs Apple’s help unlocking an iPhone locked in a New York drug investigation.

The California encryption bill was introduced by Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, who found it “mind-boggling” that warrants allowed access to homes but not people’s cellphones.

“I’m not concerned about terrorism,” Cooper said. “The federal investigators deal with that, local law enforcement deals with cases every day and they cannot access this information.”

Assembly Bill 1681 would have slapped $2,500 penalties on phone manufacturers and operating system providers for refusing to obey court orders to provide access.

The FBI has promised to bring the method it used to unlock the San Bernardino iPhone to local law enforcement, but the bureau reportedly hasn’t used it yet.

The defeated bill in California is a small boon to the tech industry and those favoring privacy rights, as their biggest worry is that weakening encrypted services and devices would only undermine people’s online security and privacy, making it easier for cybercriminals to prey on them.

A similar bill with the same $2,500 penalty was proposed in New York, but no update has been issued on it yet.

Editors' Recommendations

Julian Chokkattu
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Julian is the mobile and wearables editor at Digital Trends, covering smartphones, fitness trackers, smartwatches, and more…
FBI director continues to bemoan encryption measures in consumer devices
enisa encryption report condemns backdoors protects your most private data

A little more than 12 percent of devices are inaccessible to the Federal Bureau of Investigation thanks to encryption -- but that number is only going to grow.

Thanks to the likes of Apple and Google, more and more consumer devices are being encrypted by default. That means law enforcement are having a tough time cracking these devices open when they need to for criminal and terrorist investigations.

Read more
Apple to rehire security expert in wake of showdown with FBI
apple encryption court order news logo

Apple has rehired Jon Callas, co-founder of Silent Circle, the company behind the Blackphone.

Silent Circle is a security company that offers encrypted software services, as well as secure devices like the Blackphone and the Blackphone 2. Before co-founding Silent Circle, as well as Pretty Good Privacy, Callas worked at Apple in the 1990s, then returned between 2009 and 2011 to design an encryption system for data protection on Macs, according to Reuters.

Read more
U.S. House rejects bill that would have forced carriers to disclose a phone’s location

Privacy advocates can breathe a sigh of relief for now -- the U.S. House of Representatives has voted not to force carriers to disclose a phone's location to law enforcement in the event of an emergency.

That's what the Kelsey Smith Act was looking to turn into law, according to Reuters. The bill is named after an 18-year-old woman from Kansas who went missing in 2007. She was found murdered four days later. Verizon shared the location of her phone with law enforcement. Smiths' parents were at the House chamber during the vote.

Read more