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Bipartisan encryption bill would create special congressional commission on encryption

House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Senate Intelligence Committee member Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) on Wednesday announced plans to push forward a bill that would see the formation of a special congressional commission to address complex digital privacy issues, a hot button topic recently making headlines thanks to Apple's legal battle with the DOJ.




As conveyed in a Morning Consult report posted to Sen. Warner's website, the commission will represent interests from both sides of the ongoing encryption debate, including members of the tech community, privacy advocates and law enforcement and government intelligence agencies.

McCaul and Warner earlier this year proposed a solution that would bridge the divide, or at least make concessions toward closing the gap between individual liberties and national security. Specifically, the commission's raison d'etre would be to review the repercussions of denying law enforcement access to encrypted communications, then make recommendations on how best to tackle the critical issue. The idea was hatched before Apple and the FBI traded blows over the unlocking of an iPhone 5c used by San Bernardino terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook.

"In many ways, the current litigation that's taking place might not have been needed if we had this kind of approach a few years back," Warner told BuzzFeed News. "My fear is that we are talking past each other."

While not on a strict timeline, the goal is to produce an interim report in six months, to be followed by a final assessment in one year, BuzzFeed News reports. A year is a long stretch for players in the fast-paced world of tech, but standard practice for Congress.

The sentiment is one shared by Apple CEO Tim Cook, who on Monday suggested the government form a commission to discuss the wider implications of an FBI request that would have the company break its own iOS encryption protocol. Cook went further, saying the Justice Department should also suspend a high-profile legal fight to compel the company's help in breaking into Farook's iPhone.

Addressing Cook's statement, Warner intimated that the special commission is not meant to give Apple reprieve in its struggle with the FBI. He said that case will likely continue whether the commission is convened or not.