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 The Clipper Chip

The Clipper Chip is a cryptographic device purportedly intended to protect private communications while at the same time permitting government agents to obtain the "keys" upon presentation of what has been vaguely characterized as "legal authorization." The "keys" are held by two government "escrow agents" and would enable the government to access the encrypted private communication. While Clipper would be used to encrypt voice transmissions, a similar chip known as Capstone would be used to encrypt data.

The underlying cryptographic algorithm, known as Skipjack, was developed by the National Security Agency (NSA), a super-secret military intelligence agency responsible for intercepting foreign government communications and breaking the codes that protect such transmissions. In 1987, Congress passed the Computer Security Act, a law intended to limit NSA's role in developing standards for the civilian communications system. In spite of that legislation, the agency has played a leading role in the Clipper initiative and other civilian security proposals, such as the Digital Signature Standard. NSA has classified the Skipjack algorithm on national security grounds, thus precluding independent evaluation of the system's strength.

EPIC filed a legal memorandum in federal court challenging the "national security" classification of information concerning the "Clipper Chip."

Government Documents on the Clipper Chip

 Public Response to Clipper

The Impact of a Secret Cryptographic Standard on Encryption, Privacy, Law Enforcement and Technology by Whitfield Diffie, Sun Microsystems, before US House of Representatives, 11 May 1993.


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