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(Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s administration has backed away from seeking legislation that would give U.S. law enforcement agencies access to individuals’ encrypted messages, the White House said on Saturday.

“We are actively engaged with private companies to ensure they understand the public safety and national security risks that result from malicious actors’ use of their encrypted products and services,” said White House spokesman Mark Stroh. “However, the administration is not seeking legislation at this time.”

Stroh reiterated comments by Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, who in testifying before a Senate committee on Thursday said the administration would not seek a bill allowing it to crack into encrypted information.

“Changing forms of Internet communication and the use of encryption are posing real challenges to the FBI’s ability to fulfill its public safety and national security missions,” Comey warned.


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The tech industry, through groups representing the likes of Apple, Google, Facebook, IBM and Microsoft Corp, this year resisted any administration moves to weaken increasingly sophisticated encryption systems designed to protect consumers’ privacy.

The decision to back away from a law that would have companies turn over encrypted information to the federal government came from fears that the information would then be vulnerable to hackers, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

Recently, hackers have breached federal computer systems for the Office of Personnel Management and the Internal Revenue Service and stolen personal data of federal employees and some U.S. taxpayers.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Jeff Mason; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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