House Homeland Security Committee chair seeks to end ‘crypto war’ between industry, federal law enforcement

( The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee is looking to assemble a task force aimed at ending a sort of “crypto war” between federal law enforcement agencies seeking to track down and thwart cyber criminals and the tech industry that wants to protect customer privacy and proprietary encryption technology.

As reported by Motherboard, the debate over the impact of encryption technology on law enforcement in general is making police and federal agencies “go dark” – a term assigned to the claim that encryption technology is making it next to impossible to intercept or access important criminal and terrorist data.

But the dynamic of the debate may be set to change. Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, the Homeland Security chair, wants to put together a congressional task force whose purpose would be to conduct a wide-ranging examination of technology and encryption, and how both may be impacting the work of law enforcement, Motherboard reported.

The Web site noted further:

For more than a year now, a new “crypto war” has been raging in Washington D.C. On one side, law enforcement officials, led by FBI Director James Comey, have been warning that the rise of encryption could lead to a “very dark place” where cops and authorities don’t have access to key data to stop and investigate crimes. On the other side, civil liberties groups and technologists have responded arguing that weakening encryption to give law enforcement a way in could backfire and make everyone less secure, and that the FBI’s proposed solutions to date are technically impossible.

Now the two sides might get a chance to sit at a table to discuss the issue.

A number of sources who work in civil liberties organizations in Washington, D.C., along with employees of major tech companies, have confirmed in interviews with Motherboard that McCaul – known for being outspoken about how terrorists are using encryption to communicate and plan attacks – is pushing for the new panel. However, the sources – all of whom spoke on anonymity – said the talks are in the very early stage.

“There have been talks of some type of commission to look at the ‘going dark’ problem, and having a granular understanding of the ‘going dark’ problem and how we can solve it,” Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, told Motherboard in an interview. Hurd added that “there hasn’t been anything concrete decided on the make up or the goal of this type of entity.”

A Homeland Security committee spokesperson would not comment directly on the creation of the new commission. However, the spokesperson noted that McCaul “will be weighing into this debate” during his inaugural State of Homeland Security Address, which he gave at the National Defense University Dec. 7.

During his speech McCaul confirmed earlier reports that the ISIS terrorist group was attempting to use the Syrian and North African refugee crisis to infiltrate operatives into Europe and the United States.

“ISIS members in Syria have attempted to exploit [the refugee program] to get into the United States,” McCaul said. “The U.S. government has information to indicate that individuals tied to terrorist groups in Syria have already attempted to gain access to our country through the U.S. refugee program.”

A separate report in The Hill noted that McCaul “would not say specifically who informed him and other lawmakers about the revelation, only describing the sources as ‘elements of the intelligence community.'”

“That was very courageous for them to come forward with this, to tell me about this personally, given the political debate on the Hill,” McCaul added, noting that he and the other lawmakers were briefed about the infiltration attempts earlier in the week.

“I believe the state of our homeland is increasingly not secure,” warned McCaul.”I believe 2015 will be seen as a watershed year in this long war — the year when our enemies gained an upper hand and when the spread of terror once again awoke the West.”

The lawmaker also noted that he would be introducing a “slate” of new legislation in the coming weeks “based on the findings of the [bipartisan congressional] task force to keep terrorists from crossing our borders.”

It wasn’t clear if any of the legislation would deal directly with terrorists’ and hackers’ use of encryption technology to hide activity from law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

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