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California nixes bill that would penalize companies refusing to decrypt phones

In a small win for the tech industry, California legislators just defeated a bill that would have imposed penalties on companies that refused to provide access into encrypted services and devices for criminal investigations.

The bill didn’t get a vote, according to the Sacremento Bee, and died after members of the Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection decided that weakening encrypted services would be a bad move for data security.

Related: Cellebrite didn’t do it: Gray-hat hackers unlocked cell phone for FBI

Currently, Senator Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., and Senator Richard Burr, R-N.C., are drafting a federal bill similar to the now-defunct California bill. A draft of the bill was leaked last week and prompted strong backlash from legal and tech experts.

The root of the issue was brought to national attention earlier this year when Apple refused to assist the FBI in offering a backdoor into an iPhone used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. The FBI dropped the California case after the agency paid professional “gray hat” hackers to break into the iPhone 5C.

The ongoing battle between Apple and the FBI isn’t over though, as the FBI said it still needs Apple’s help unlocking an iPhone locked in a New York drug investigation.

The California encryption bill was introduced by Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, who found it “mind-boggling” that warrants allowed access to homes but not people’s cellphones.

“I’m not concerned about terrorism,” Cooper said. “The federal investigators deal with that, local law enforcement deals with cases every day and they cannot access this information.”

Related: Apple vs. U.S. isn’t over yet; Feinstein-Burr ‘encryption bill’ draft surfaces

Assembly Bill 1681 would have slapped $2,500 penalties on phone manufacturers and operating system providers for refusing to obey court orders to provide access.

The FBI has promised to bring the method it used to unlock the San Bernardino iPhone to local law enforcement, but the bureau reportedly hasn’t used it yet.

The defeated bill in California is a small boon to the tech industry and those favoring privacy rights, as their biggest worry is that weakening encrypted services and devices would only undermine people’s online security and privacy, making it easier for cybercriminals to prey on them.

A similar bill with the same $2,500 penalty was proposed in New York, but no update has been issued on it yet.

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