SXSW panel: Bill would create panel of lawmakers to tackle digital security policies

The gist: U.S. Congressman Michael McCaul, (R-TX), on Saturday said legislation like the Digital Security Commission Act is long overdue.

The bipartisan bill, which he introduced in late February with Senator Mark Warner, (D-VA), aims to bring together lawmakers and experts from the technology and law enforcement communities to tackle digital policies in a world where people and devices are more connected than ever.

The two lawmakers and Admiral Bob Inman, A former Navy admiral and deputy director of the CIA, met with tech professionals Saturday at an unofficial South by Southwest Interactive panel hosted at the incubator The Capitol Factory.


Efforts to create the new national commission, modeled after the 9/11 Commission, are bipartisan and should have been taken on two years ago, McCaul said. The bill has not yet been reported to committee, but McCaul and Warner said they were cautiously optimistic it could get passed, even with a lame duck Congress. “We are trying to represent the center of America, where most Americans are,” McCaul said.

Yes, the commission would seek to tackle encryption. But it would also go beyond that. “This debate is going to exponentially grow as we think through the Internet of Things and more and more devices are going to be hooked into the network,” Warner said. “It’s to deal with the current challenge, but also get ahead as digital security takes on greater significance.”

But, what about encryption? Warner echoed President Barack Obama’s words, saying the FBI and Apple taking absolutist approaches to the debate was not productive. “Right now you, you have parts of law enforcement and parts of the tech community talking past each other, without a common set of facts,” he said. “The thing that we have heard repeatedly in private conversations on both sides is you have to force us into the room.”

McCaul emphasized encryption wasn’t bad: it was designed by the military to communicate securely during World War II. “It’s the terrorists ability to exploit that and turn it against us” that is the danger,” he said. “We started these discussions well before the Apple iphone case.”

Warner and McCaul said they could not yet give examples of the kinds of recommendations the commission would make on encryption. But McCaul did have examples of some it would not. One was building a backdoor to the iphone, which he said would leave it open to hackers.