Broadband, encryption and privacy top State of the Net agenda

In a chaotic time on Capitol Hill, lawmakers from both parties see room for bipartisan work to advance broadband infrastructure, strike a balance in the encryption debate and update old privacy laws.

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"We think this is going to be an ongoing, evolving problem, and there is going to be a need for the Congress to be aware of the need for some legislative solutions [at] some time, but also the risks involved if we undertake them and don't understand the ramifications of what we're doing," he said.

Goodlatte offered his thoughts on the subject while he conducted an on-stage interview of Lior Div, CEO of Cybereason, a Boston-based security firm. Goodlatte rejected any proposal for a universal backdoor -- sometimes known as a "golden key" -- that would enable law enforcement to categorically access encrypted information as a non-starter.

Div was blunt in his assessment of such a proposal: "If there is a backdoor, it will be found and it will be used against the main purpose for which it was created."

[ Related: FBI v. Apple: One year later, it hasn’t settled much ]

There was an evident symbolism to the staging of the session, where the lawmaker interviewed the private-sector cybersecurity expert. Both men spoke of the need for greater collaboration between the government and industry -- ensuring that data about emerging threats flows both ways would be a good start, Div said -- and dismissed the notion of an inherent tension between strong security and consumer privacy.

"We also have to look at this as a problem of not security vs. privacy," Goodlatte said. "In my opinion, it's security vs. privacy and security, because strong technology keeps people safe; at the same time it protects their information."

Email and privacy in the cloud

A separate but related debate on Capitol Hill involves the ongoing efforts to enact stronger legal protections against search and seizure for digital communications such as email. As it stands, the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) governs the matter, stipulating that law enforcement authorities can access digital content such as emails and data stored in the cloud without having to obtain a warrant if those materials are more than 180 days old.

Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), herself a veteran of the tech sector, said that she intends to renew the effort to modernize ECPA and harmonize the legal protections surrounding digital and physical records.

"I worked on email in my early days at Microsoft, and here we have a policy that predates back then -- that predates even when I started working at Microsoft in 1989, when people were using host-based communication systems. And yet we haven't been able to update that law just so that we have a warrant standard for digital information the same we do for a piece of paper in your file drawer," Delbene said. "That's pretty indicative of how behind we are from a policy perspective."

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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