EPIC Statement on Vice President's Key Escrow Letter     News reports that the Clinton Administration has reversed itself on encryption policy are not supported by the letter from Vice President Gore to Rep. Maria Cantwell regarding export control policy. In fact, the letter reiterates the White House's commitment to the NSA's key escrow proposal and calls on the private sector to develop products that will facilitate electronic surveillance.   The letter from the Vice President calls on the government and industry to develop jointly systems for key escrow cryptography. Key escrow is the central feature of the Clipper chip and the NSA's recommended method for electronic surveillance of digital communications.   The letter also reaffirms the Administration's support for Clipper Chip as the federal standard for voice networks. There is no indication that the White House will withdraw this proposal. Statements that Clipper is "dead" are absurd.   The Gore letter offers no changes in export control policy. It recommends instead that the status quo be maintained and that more studies be conducted. (The White House already completed such a study earlier this year. The results were never disclosed to the public, despite EPIC's request for release of the findings under the Freedom of Information Act.)   This is a significant setback for groups expecting that export control laws would be revised this year.   The White House expresses a willingness to allow unclassified algorithms and to hold key escrow agents liable for misuse. These are the only provisions of the Gore letter favorable to the user community. But neither provision would even be necessary if the White House did not attempt to regulate cryptography in the first place.   The Administration's willingness to accept private sector alternatives to Clipper for data networks essentially ratifies an agreement to develop "wiretap ready" technologies for data networks.   We believe the letter from the Vice President is essentially a blueprint for electronic surveillance of digital networks. The government will set out the requirements for surveillance systems such as key escrow, and the industry will build complying systems.   The plan dovetails neatly with the FBI's Digital Telephony proposal, which will establish legal penalties for companies and users that design systems that cannot be wiretapped.   We do not believe this is in the interests of users of the information highway. Key escrow necessarily weakens the security and privacy of electronic communications. It makes networks vulnerable to tampering and confidential messages subject to compromise. It is the approach urged by organizations that specialize in electronic eavesdropping. No group of Internet users has ever called for key escrow encryption.   If this proposal goes forward, electronic surveillance will almost certainly increase, network security will be weakened, and people who design strong cryptography without key escrow could become criminals. This is not a victory for freedom or privacy.   We support unclassified standards and relaxation of export controls. We cannot support the premise that the government and industry should design key escrow systems. We also do not believe that Clipper is an appropriate standard for federal voice communications.   We are asking the Vice President to reconsider his position and urging network users to make known their concerns about the proposal.     Electronic Privacy Information Center Washington, DC July 21, 1994  

Return to:

Key-Escrow Page | Crypto Policy Page | EPIC Home Page