On Friday, February 4, 1994, the Clinton Administration announced that it plans to fully support and make the Clipper Chip encryption scheme a national standard, and to discourage the development and sale of alternative powerful encryption technologies . Encryption technology or cryptography is the technique of coding or scrambling data communications so only the desired recipient will receive the data. If the government succeeds in its effort, Americans could suffer an extreme blow to individual freedo m and privacy.
The lack of commercial encryption products means that it is very easy for the government to set its own standard, hence, the Clipper Chip. Currently, software developers do not include strong encryption capabilities in their products because the State Department refuses to license for export any encryption technology that the National Security Agency cannot decipher. Thus, American companies lose in the potential billion dollar industry because of their inability to export good encryption products, or they set up branches outside of the country to avoid the export restrictions, costing American jobs.
Federal security agencies have been working with telecommunications companies to design "back doors" into the entire National Information Infrastructure (NII), also known as the national information superhighway. The government could have the ability t o record the time, origin, and recipient of every call and e-mail message, to monitor our private communications, track our physical location continuously, and to keep account of our financial transactions better than we do, all without a warrant.
The Clipper Chip, a computer microchip that encrypts data, will be installed into telecommunications devices such as telephones, computers, and digital set-top boxes for interactive television. In other words, any system or network connected to the NII would be required to include a back door in order to allow monitoring by government agencies such as the FBI. Any and all communication that passes through anything from the national telephone network to your local office computer network will be suscept ible to the government, including phone conversations, video, images and text.
The federal government claims that these "back doors" will be used only to catch criminals and that your privacy will be protected. However, "trusting the government with your privacy is like trusting a Peeping Tom to install your window blinds," says John Perry Barlow, vice-Chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Clinton and Gore believe it is their responsibility to eliminate the possibility of a terrorist threat involving private encrypted communication. "Some terrorist might get a nuke and use it on, say, the World Trade Center . . . though only ten Ameri can lives have been lost to terrorism in the last two years," says Barlow.
Is this really the best use of American tax dollars for defense against the possibility of terrorism? Don't forget that the last people who detonated an explosive device in the World Trade Center were able to do it without the aid of any cryptography a nd while under FBI surveillance.
Anyone smart enough to steal a nuclear device is probably smarts enough to use some other uncompromised cryptography standard (and they are out there; anyone can use them.) Apparently, the administration is in the mood to protect our safety over our li berty --despite the First Amendment of the Constitution which surely protects the method of our speech as clearly as it protects the content of it.
What can you do? We need to get congress to lift the crypto embargo. The government is trying to bring the Clipper Chip on us by manipulating the market. They are purchasing massive numbers of devices which utilize the Clipper Chip, intending to bring about an economy of scale which will make them cheap while the export embargo makes the competition either expensive or nonexistent. Furthermore, make your support of the bill H.R. 3627 known by contacting Representative Cantwell. Finally, boycott Clipper devices and the companies which make them.