Remember that California bill to ban the sale of encrypted phones? It just got worse

The assemblyman, who decried Apple for "risking our national security and the safety of our kids" by using encryption, also uses an iPhone.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

(Image: CNET/CBS Interactive)

A recently-amended California bill that would force phone or software makers, like Apple and Google, to decrypt data or face fines just got sizably bigger in scope.

California assembly member Jim Cooper (D-9th) introduced new state legislation that would require any new smartphone from 2017 onwards to be "capable of being decrypted and unlocked by its manufacturer or its operating system provider."

That would impose a near-blanket ban on nearly all iPhones and many Android devices being sold across the state as they stand today, more often than not with unbreakable encryption that even the companies can't unlock.

Cooper introduced amendments to the bill late last month that went largely unnoticed, but modified the scope at which a phone can be forcibly unlocked.

The new bill mandates the "ability to decrypt in response to any court order at any point, not just time of sale," said Andrew Crocker, attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a tweet.

That's a wide expansion from the original version of the draft bill, which said that any phone sold in the state must at the time of sale have a backdoor to allow law enforcement to access that device's data with a court order in hand.

It's no surprise that Cooper has modified the bill, given the controversy surrounding the bill. The amended version will no longer fine tech companies and phone makers for each phone sold, but they will instead face a $2,500 fine for each time a device cannot be accessed by law enforcement.

Cooper still has a way to go before the bill becomes law. The bill must pass the assembly and the state senate, and be signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

Crocker said in a blog post earlier in March that the bill, if passed, "would leave law-abiding Californians at risk for identity theft, data breach, stalking, and other invasions of privacy, with little benefit to law enforcement."

"It would be both ineffective and impossible to enforce," said Crocker, "and, if that weren't enough, it suffers from serious constitutional infirmities."

Cooper himself hasn't stopped using an iPhone, despite saying on Twitter that Apple was "risking our national security and the safety of our kids" by building devices with unbreakable encryption.


Asm. Jim Cooper tweeting a selfie from his iPhone in mid-March. (Screenshot via Jim Cooper/Twitter)

Cooper's office did not return a call Friday.

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