California Assembly considers bill to mandate encryption backdoors

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A bill introduced in the California State Assembly earlier this year would require companies that build smartphones and mobile operating systems to build backdoors in their products and fine any company that does not comply.

Assembly Bill 1681 "would require a smartphone that is manufactured on or after January 1, 2017, and sold in California, to be capable of being decrypted and unlocked by its manufacturer or its operating system provider." Companies which "knowingly failed to comply" would be subjected to a $2,500 fine for each device sold in the state.

The bill was introduced in January by Assembly Member Jim Cooper and coauthored by Assembly Member James Gallagher and State Senators Patricia Bates and Isadore Hall.

As noted by the EFF, such a bill is problematic for a number of reasons. It would not prevent sales of encrypted phones in neighboring states, for instance, and would do nothing to stop the proliferation of encrypted communications tools.

Similar legislation has been proposed in New York by Assembly Members Matthew Titone and Walter T. Mosley, while U.S. Senators Diane Feinstein and Richard Burr are expected to introduce a comparable measure at the federal level soon.

"It's just that I have a basic fundamental belief this is very important and that no American company should be above the law," Feinstein said regarding her proposal.

The level of support for these measures in their various chambers remains unclear, and neither the California nor New York bill has yet made it out of committee. Meanwhile, Apple and the FBI continue to spar through the media and the bureau has appealed to New York courts for the reversal of a decision that went in Apple's favor.