Obama administration finally takes position on encryption, one that nobody will like

But the position won't break the political deadlock on unbreakable encryption.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

The Obama administration has said it will not support draft legislation that would force tech companies to unlock their devices when compelled to by a court order.

(Image: file photo)

New bipartisan legislation, co-authored by the leading officials on the Senate Intelligence Committee -- which has yet to be formally announced -- would impose civil fines against tech companies if law enforcement agencies are unable to access data on encrypted devices.

But according to sources speaking to Reuters, the White House will not back the legislation, all but ensuring a political deadlock on the encryption issue continues.

The sources said that any encryption will be "controversial" and is "unlikely to go far" in a gridlocked Congress during an election year.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest echoed those sentiments in remarks last month, saying he was "skeptical" that lawmakers on Capitol Hill would be able to resolve the matter through legislation.

President Obama has previously said that police and federal agencies should have a way to get access to encrypted data.

Many tech companies began leaning towards encryption in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations, which detailed vast government efforts to break into their systems and networks.

The government's position isn't surprising given how divided the president's team remains on the matter, despite a high profile effort by federal agents to get access to an iPhone used by the San Bernardino shooter, which last month led to a short but heated court battle.

Apple refused to help the FBI unlock the encrypted phone, arguing that it doesn't have the passcode or a way to break the encryption.

But while many in law enforcement argued that criminals were using encryption to "go dark," a metaphor the FBI uses to describe its difficulty in accessing communications, some in other government departments -- including Homeland Security and the National Security Agency -- joined the pro-encryption lobby.

Chief executive Tim Cook previously said that there had been "a lack of leadership in the White House" over encryption.

But that hasn't stopped companies from pushing ahead with encrypted products. Just this week, WhatsApp completed its rollout of end-to-end encryption for messages and phone calls to its entire one billion users.

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