White House won't publicly back legislation allowing judges to order decryption - report

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Despite recent comments by President Obama, the White House won't publicly support upcoming draft legislation that would let judges order companies like Apple to help decrypt their products, a report said on Thursday.

The legislation — a bipartisan effort from Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein — could be introduced as quickly as this week, Reuters noted. But while the White House has reviewed it and provided feedback, it will provide little if any public input, sources told the newswire agency.

The administration is split on the issue, the sources added, and its position may reflect a realization than an encryption bill would be controversial, and unlikely to make it far in a deadlocked Congress also facing impending elections.

The draft bill would reportedly grant judges the power to order companies to help the government, but in its current state it doesn't say how companies might be obligated, what penalties might be imposed, or even under what circumstances an order could be issued.

During March's SXSW festival in Austin, Tex., Obama appeared to support the idea of safeguarding private data, but also argued against "absolutist" stances, suggesting there are times when law enforcement agencies should have access. Perhaps most significantly, he cautioned against any "sloppy and rushed" efforts by Congress.

The ongoing encryption debate was sparked by Apple's refusal to circumvent the passcode retry limit on the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. The Department of Justice ultimately backed down, saying another method had successfully extracted data, but the situation is still unresolved in many ways — Apple, for instance, is looking to discover what that method was.