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Victory: Battle against California smartphone anti-encryption bill is over

This statement was originally published on eff.org on 13 April 2016.

The California Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection has scuttled A.B. 1681, the anti-smartphone encryption bill that EFF has been fighting for the last few months. The bill was unable to get a second in committee, so it died without a formal vote.

A.B. 1681 was introduced in January of this year, and originally required that every smartphone sold in California have the technical ability to be decrypted and unlocked at the time of sale by the manufacturer or operating system provider. The bill was then amended to penalize companies that couldn't decrypt the contents of a smartphone pursuant to a state court order.

The bill, both before and after it was amended, posed a serious threat to smartphone security. It would have forced companies to dedicate resources to finding ways to defeat their own encryption or insert backdoors to facilitate decryption. As a result, the bill would have essentially prohibited companies from offering full disk encryption for their phones.

Full disk encryption ensures that technology users can trust that their data is secure. It can help safeguard against identity thieves, malicious hackers, and others. It is particularly important when smartphones are lost or stolen, so that the sensitive data they store won't be compromised.

Smartphone security is vital for victims of stalking and domestic violence. This is why the National Network to End Domestic Violence raised serious concerns about attempts to undermine device security, stating “Victim privacy is fundamental to victim safety, and the technologies survivors use should have the most security and encryption possible.”

EFF members, supporters, and friends rallied together to stop this bill, sending a clear message to the California legislature that we would not let the security of our digital lives be compromised. Defeating this bill is a major win for our community.

But even as we celebrate this victory in California, there are other ongoing battles over encryption. On the federal level, anti-security Senators are promoting a misguided proposal to undermine encryption while other elected officials are standing up for our digital privacy. The White House has failed to support any of these proposals, but also hasn't yet taken the strong leadership we need on this issue. In New York and Louisiana, we're fighting against bills very similar to A.B. 1681. And even the fight in California could return: the author of A.B. 1681, Assemblymember Jim Cooper, has vowed to try to pass this bill again next session.

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