U.S. Senate Considers Two Bills Which Could Threaten Encryption Integrity

Two new bills threatening encryption have been introduced to the U.S. Senate, causing activists to worry about the future of free-speech and privacy on the internet. The bills could also pose challenges to blockchains and cryptocurrencies which will be near-impossible to surmount.

The Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act (LAED) proposes building in a way for law enforcement to access encrypted communications with a court order. The law has been presented as a means to curb the spread of exploitative content involving children on the internet, along with other criminal activity. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and U.S. Senators Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) have championed the bill.

“Terrorists and criminals routinely use technology, whether smartphones, apps, or other means, to coordinate and communicate their daily activities,” Graham (R-South Carolina) said. “In recent history, we have experienced numerous terrorism cases and serious criminal activity where vital information could not be accessed, even after a court order was issued.”

The bill includes broad enough language that financial transactions could be deemed digital communications and fall under the jurisdiction of the laws. Yap, of privacy-coin Zcoin, said these bills will likely affect the crypto world.

“It could mean that ‘providers’ of a privacy cryptocurrency that provided service to more than 1,000,000 users in the US are required to insert a backdoor,” Yap told CoinDesk in an interview.

Activists believe that The Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act (EARN IT Act) also presents a threat to privacy and free-speech on the internet. The act would take away company’s liability protections for content posted on their sites. A topic which came into the spotlight recently when U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to take away these protections in the midst of a war with Twitter over content warnings placed on his tweets by the platform.

Revocation of these protections would mean internet platforms could be sued privately or criminally for illegal content communicated on their site. The Electronic Frontier Foundation — a nonprofit working to protect privacy and free speech in the digital world — has vehemently opposed the EARN IT Act arguing that it holds site creators responsible for the speech of their users. To protect themselves from liability, website owners would be forced to shut down forums, comments sections and discussions across the internet. The EARN IT Act also does not prevent law enforcement from circumventing encryption using client-side scanning.

If these bills are passed it would put public blockchains like Bitcoin or Ethereum in a difficult position. They would not be able to exist as public blockchains offering total privacy while still complying with the law.

By Emily Mason

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