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Sen. Lindsey Graham. Photo: Alex Edelman/Getty Images

The long-running fight over encryption looked set to enter a hot new phase Tuesday as representatives of Apple and Facebook took a grilling from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, while Facebook sent a letter to Attorney General Bill Barr saying it won't accede to government pressure to add "back doors" to its products.

Why it matters: Encryption is increasingly baked into tech devices and communications platforms. That enhances personal privacy — but law enforcement authorities have long maintained that it also harms their ability to apprehend criminals, terrorists and child abusers.

The big picture: The message to tech firms from senators of both parties, including committee Chairman Lindsey Graham and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, was blunt: Expect Congress to pass new encryption legislation mandating law enforcement access to devices and messages unless the industry provides its own methods.

What they're saying:

  • Graham: "You're gonna find a way to do this or we're gonna do it for you. We're not going to live in a world where a bunch of child abusers have a safe haven to practice their craft."
  • New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. testified that Apple's decision to begin encrypting iPhone content by default in 2014 "effectively upended centuries of American jurisprudence holding that nobody's property is beyond reach of a court order."
  • Erik Neuenschwander, Apple's manager for user privacy, told the senators that Apple has never held keys that let it access users' data, and it opposes efforts to require it to do so: "We've been unable to identify any way to create back doors that would only work for the good guys. They will be exploited by nefarious entities as well."
  • Jay Sullivan, product management director for privacy and integrity at Facebook Messenger, argued that if the U.S. mandates weakened encryption for U.S.-based services, customers will simply switch to services offered by companies abroad that will be less responsive to American authorities.

The other side: Most of the senators' questioning assumed that "fixing" encryption would benefit law enforcement, but Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) warned of unintended consequences like rich drug cartels buying ways to hack through back-door access.

Meanwhile, Facebook responded to a November letter from Barr, as well as officials of the U.S. Homeland Security department and the governments of the U.K. and Australia. The letter urged the company to design its systems to allow law enforcement authorities access to user data when investigating crimes.

  • The letter, from Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp, and Stan Chudnovsky, head of Messenger, said: "Cybersecurity experts have repeatedly proven that when you weaken any part of an encrypted system, you weaken it for everyone, everywhere. The ‘backdoor’ access you are demanding for law enforcement would be a gift to criminals, hackers and repressive regimes."

Go deeper: The Justice Department just made the encryption debate harder to solve

Go deeper

Laurel Hubbard to become 1st openly trans athlete to compete at Olympics

New Zealand's Laurel Hubbard at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia, when she became the first openly transgender athlete to represent NZ. Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

The New Zealand Olympic Committee has announced that Laurel Hubbard has been selected for the women's weightlifting team for the Tokyo Games — making her the first openly transgender athlete to compete at the event.

The big picture: Hubbard, 43, is part of a five-member Kiwi weightlifting team and will compete in the women's super heavyweight category. Meanwhile, BMX rider Chelsea Wolfe will become the first openly trans athlete to travel to the Olympics with Team USA, when she arrives in Tokyo as a reserve rider.

American Airlines cuts hundreds of flights amid demand surge

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

American Airlines announced Sunday that it's cutting some 950 flights from its schedule, including 296 this weekend, to reduce potential pressure on its operations, the Wall Street Journal first reported.

Driving the news: The U.S. vaccine rollout has led to a massive increase in travel bookings. The airline noted in an emailed statement that it's facing an "incredibly quick ramp up of customer demand."

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Florida Pride parade fatal crash a "tragic accident," police say

Participants walk away as police investigate the scene where a pickup truck drove into a crowd of people at a Pride parade in Wilton Manors, Florida, on Saturday. Photo: Jason Koerner/Getty Images

Police said Sunday they believe a driver unintentionally hit spectators at a weekend Pride parade in Wilton Manors, Florida, resulting in the death of one man and leaving another person hospitalized.

The latest: Addressing speculation that the crash may have been a hate crime against the LGBTQ community, Wilton Manors police chief Gary Blocker said in a statement: "Today we know yesterday's incident was a tragic accident, and not a criminal act directed at anyone, or any group of individuals."