January 6th panel's data requests hampered by encryption

As the congressional panel investigating the January 6th morons' rebellion serves data requests to social media and other online entities, it is finding that encryption will stand in its way.


Several of the companies that received preservation requests from the panel said they would comply to the best of their ability. Clint Smith, the chief legal officer at the chat platform Discord, said in a statement the company condemned the Jan. 6 violence and would "cooperate fully as appropriate." Rumble, a video platform popular with conservatives, said it would comply "with all valid law enforcement and investigative requests."

But the encryption used on many of those services will limit the amount of data the select committee is able to gather if it does make a formal request or issue a subpoena for the actual messages, experts say.

"They're not going to get everything," said James Lewis, senior vice president and director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, of the select panel.

A spokesperson for the select committee declined to comment on the encryption question.

While the Politico article presents a pretty interesting list of the usual tech companies, and their ability or lack thereof to share the data Congress is requesting, a former FBI person and digital rights activists caution Congress not to get its hopes up.

A former FBI official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive topic, said the select committee investigators shouldn't hold their breath about accessing encrypted data related to their inquiry. It would be a tough sell to a court, the official said, which would have to weigh how compelling a need there would be for the data and how burdensome it might be for the company to provide assistance to the committee.

As advocates see it, the preservation of privacy and security is most important to protect users from potential overreach — even when the ultimate purpose of an investigation relates to a domestic extremist attack such as the Jan. 6 insurrection.

"Law enforcement will grasp at any excuse to attack this technology that keeps people safe. But there is no way to create a backdoor that's only for the good guys, and not for the bad guys," said Evan Greer, director of the digital rights nonprofit Fight for the Future.