Privacy-rights advocates in California won a small victory Tuesday when state Assembly legislators chose not to vote on a bill that would have fined companies that refuse to cooperate with court orders to break into cellphones.

According to The Sacramento Bee:

The bill did not receive a vote, with members of the Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection worrying the measure would undermine data security and impose a logistically untenable requirement on California companies. …

Assembly Bill 1681 would authorize $2,500 penalties against phone manufacturers and operating system providers if they do not obey court orders to decrypt phones.

The California Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection released an analysis explaining all of the “questions and ambiguities” in the bill. The committee criticized the weakness of the language of the bill, but also discussed “the broader technological problem of how to increase law enforcement access without weakening security”:

To the extent that a decryption mandate would require smartphone makers to introduce new potential weaknesses into the security architecture of future phones, it would increase the likelihood of those phones being hacked and their personal information being compromised. This new vulnerability would only be compounded as more electronic devices become connected via one’s smartphone (the Internet of Things) and more financial transactions become mobile-enabled.

The bill was referred to the committee at the end of February. Introduced by Assemblyman Jim Cooper, whose district includes Sacramento, multiple companies—including Apple, the ACLU and Google—opposed the bill.

Considering the national conversation surrounding surveillance and encryption, it’s a victory that the bill did not even end up going to vote.

–Posted by Emma Niles

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