This week, the House will hopefully vote on an amendment to H.R. 5293, the National Defense Appropriations Act of 2017, offered by Reps. Thomas Massie and Zoe Lofgren. The Amendment was passed by a strong bipartisan majority in both 2014 and 2015, though it ultimately failed to be included in the omnibus appropriations bill. That was a mistake, which Congress now has the opportunity to correct.
The bulk of this amendment would prohibit funds to be allocated for the NSA to continue warrantless searches of Americans’ data authorized under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. Although the Niskanen Center is strongly supportive of reforms to the Section 702 program, there is an even more urgent provision in the amendment that should compel Congress to take this proposal under serious consideration: safeguarding encryption.
The Massie-Lofgren amendment would prohibit the NSA from mandating, or even requesting, private firms create backdoors into encryption protocols. In addition to the added protection for Americans’ online security, this provision would help reestablish a firm footing for domestic security firms to avow their unflinching commitment to strong encryption. The economic benefits that result from a trust-enhancing digital ecosystem are highly suggestive as one of the primary underlying drivers of modern economic growth. Protecting that growth, and the security of American consumers, should be among the top congressional priorities before the House and Senate break for summer recess.
Unfortunately, recent changes to the House rules may prevent this all-too-important and bipartisan amendment from being offered for a vote. That would be a shame, especially when there is so much at stake in protecting encryption. Members should have an opportunity to consider and debate the merits of this proposal. We owe it to the continued strength of our digital economy and online security to take the issue of encryption seriously.
In order to ensure the continued proliferation of trust in cyberspace, the digital security of American consumers and our nation, and the strongest safeguards for civil liberties, Congress should move the Massie-Lofgren amendment to a vote with all due haste.
For more on the many benefits associated with encryption, a selection of previous Niskanen Center works is listed below:
- Ryan Hagemann and Josh Hampson, “Encryption, Trust, and the Online Economy: An Assessment of the Economic Benefits Associated with Encryption,” Niskanen Center Research Paper
- Libertarian and Conservative coalition letter asking President Obama to support strong encryption
- Ryan Hagemann, “Missing the Forest for the Apple Tree,” Niskanen Center Blog
- Ryan Hagemann, “Encryption at Home and Abroad,” Niskanen Center Blog
- Josh Hampson, “Global Reasons for Strong Encryption,” RealClearTechnology