Lawmakers on both sides square off over encryption

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The conflict between Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C., over encryption engulfed the media this week, inflamed by a federal judge's ruling that Apple should be forced to assist authorities in accessing the contents of one of the company's devices. Yet while a number of familiar faces in Congress used the occasion to renew calls for quick legislative action, it remains uncertain that anything will materialize from the ordeal.

"The newest Apple operating systems allow device access only to users — even Apple itself can't get in. Murderers, pedophiles, drug dealers and the others are already using this technology to cover their tracks," Senate Intelligence Chairman Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., wrote in a column Thursday for USA Today.

"We are a country of laws, and this charade has gone on long enough. Apple needs to comply with the court's order," Burr added. Aides to the senator suggested that he would soon present legislation to impose civil penalties on companies that refuse to comply with such orders.

It is not the first time Burr has announced an ambitious plan to take action on a matter related to encryption. Following the Dec. 2 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., Burr and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., announced plans to propose legislation that would weaken encryption, contending that the terrorists may have used it as part of their plans.