A set of questions from Senator Ron Wyden — directed at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — have finally received answers. The answers [PDF] were actually given to the Senate oversight committee in July but have just now been made public.
Zack Whittaker of ZDNet has taken a look at the answers the ODNI provided and found something that indicates the government can not only compel the creation of backdoors, but can do so without explicit approval from the FISA court.
The government made its remarks in July in response to questions posed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), but they were only made public this weekend.
The implication is that the government can use its legal authority to secretly ask a US-based company for technical assistance, such as building an encryption backdoor into a product, but can petition the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to compel the company if it refuses.
In its answers, the government said it has “not to date” needed to ask the FISC to issue an order to compel a company to backdoor or weaken its encryption.
The government would not say, however, if it’s ever asked a company to add an encryption backdoor.
The way this process works is the agency requesting the backdoor or other compelled assistance runs the request by the FISA court. This process does not ask the FISA court to approve the method used, nor does it provide the court with details on the assistance sought. All the FISC determines is whether or not compelled assistance is necessary.