Editorials

FBI-tech industry encryption battle is far from over

A man holds out his iPhone during a rally in support of data privacy outside the Apple store in San Francisco on Feb. 23. Apple resisted a court order requiring it to help the FBI unlock an encrypted iPhone used by a gunman in the San Bernardino mass shooting, but the FBI announced Monday that it found a way to access the phone on its own.
A man holds out his iPhone during a rally in support of data privacy outside the Apple store in San Francisco on Feb. 23. Apple resisted a court order requiring it to help the FBI unlock an encrypted iPhone used by a gunman in the San Bernardino mass shooting, but the FBI announced Monday that it found a way to access the phone on its own. Associated Press

The faceoff between Apple Inc. and the FBI is over for now, but the broader issue of digital privacy and national security most definitely is not.

So a proposed National Commission on Digital Security makes all sorts of sense to produce a longer-term settlement. The government and Silicon Valley have plenty of incentive to support the panel’s creation after the FBI announced Monday that it found a way to hack into an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino killers.

While the FBI said it no longer needed a court order requiring Apple to crack the phone, it won’t be the last time that law enforcement agencies will need access to investigate terrorism or other crimes.

And while it’s a mystery who is aiding the FBI and how they got around the security measures, Apple and other high-tech companies ought to be very concerned that their much-promoted encryption isn’t foolproof.

The commission is overdue, actually, given all the complex issues raised by domestic surveillance and ever-improving technology.

Patterned after the 9/11 commission, the panel would be appointed by congressional leaders and would bring together privacy advocates, law enforcement officials, technology experts, economists and others to seek solutions in such complex areas as encryption, data breaches and the “dark Web” used by terrorists and criminals.

Importantly, the idea has bipartisan backing. It is being led by Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee. California Democrats Ted Lieu, Jerry McNerney and Eric Swalwell and Republican Mimi Walters have signed on as co-sponsors of the House bill, H.R. 4651.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, former chairwoman of the intelligence committee, supports such a panel, but also wants legislation to make clear that companies must comply with court orders to help law enforcement, her office says.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has also indicated support for such a commission. Monday, the company said it “remains committed to participating” in “a national conversation about our civil liberties, and our collective security and privacy.”

Cook led the charge against what he and many others saw as dangerous government overreach. Now he and other Silicon Valley execs should seize the chance to help determine the balance of privacy and security – and their industry’s future.

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