Personal tools


CPSR Letter to Clinton

CPSR Letter to President Clinton

On December 6, the Digital Privacy and Security Working Group, a "coalition of over 50 communications and computer companies and associations, and consumer and privacy advocates" coordinated by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, sent a letter to President Clinton concerning cryptography policy. The letter states, "In our discussions with Administration officials, we have expressed the Coalition's tentative acceptance of the Clipper Chip's encryption scheme (as announced on April 16, 1993), but only if it is available as a voluntary alternative to widely- available, commercially-accepted, encryption programs and products."

The Washington Office of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR) has sent the following letter to the President. We believe that the position stated in this letter continues to represent the views of the vast majority of network users, as reflected in the overwhelmingly critical comments submitted to the National Institute of Standards and Technology in response to its recent solicitation of public comments on the Clipper proposal.

December 8, 1993

The President
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

We are writing to you regarding the Clipper cryptography proposal now under consideration by the White House and a letter you may have received about the proposal from a group called the "Digital Privacy and Security Working Group."

This group wrote to you recently and expressed their "tentative acceptance" of the Clipper Chip encryption scheme. We disagree with their views. This group has made a grave mistake and does not speak for the many users of computer networks and developers of network services who have vigorously opposed this proposal.

We are very much concerned about the Clipper proposal. At its core is the dubious premise that the government should have the authority to design communications networks that facilitate wire surveillance. The plan was developed in secret by the National Security Agency over the objection of U.S. firms, professional associations and public interest organizations. Key details about the proposal remain classified.

This proposal must not be endorsed. The development of open, unclassified standards is critical for the future of the nation's communications infrastructure. Progress and innovation depend on the free exchange of scientific and technical information. It is essential to the integrity of the scientific process that standards are openly created and available for public review.

There is also a great need to ensure that future networks are designed with the highest levels of privacy and security possible. As our country becomes ever more dependent on the high-speed network, the need for secure systems will only increase. The Clipper proposal purposefully cripples the security of the network and reduces the privacy protection that users could otherwise obtain.

There is another still more serious problem with the Clipper proposal. An agency with the authority to conduct wiretaps must not be allowed to impose technical standards to facilitate wire surveillance. The threat to Constitutional democracy is clear. A system of checks and balances is essential to ensure that the powerful investigative tools of government are properly controlled.

We have followed the development of this proposal with great concern. We have testified before Congressional committees. We have appeared before agency panels, provided reports on wire surveillance, and debated the former FBI Director on national television. We have also sponsored conferences with full participation from across the federal government. We believe that the best policies will result from an open and unrestricted exchange of views.

It is our assessment that you must not permit adoption of the Clipper technical standard, even on a voluntary basis. At a time when the country should be moving toward open standards designed for commercial networks, the Clipper proposal asks future users of the nation's information infrastructure to accept a standard intended for the Cold War era. It is a backward-looking plan that serves neither the interests of the American people nor American business.

The adoption of the Clipper proposal would also ratify an unlawful process that has undermined the authority of Congress and weakened the mechanisms of government accountability. The proper authority for the development of this standard never rested with the NSA. Under the Computer Security Act of 1987, it was a civilian agency that was to develop appropriate standards for the nation's commercial networks. Through a series of secret executive orders, the NSA usurped the authority of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, substituted its own proposal for those of NIST, and effectively derailed this important policy process.

When the computer user community had the opportunity to voice its position on this proposal, it rejected the plan overwhelmingly. The notice and comment process conducted by the Department of Commerce earlier this year resulted in nearly uniform opposition to the Clipper proposal. It would be hard to find a technical standard more disliked by the potential user community.

While we support the relaxation of export controls on cryptography, we are not willing to concede to the NSA the right to develop secret standards. It is only because the National Security Agency also exerts influence on export control policy that the Digital Privacy coalition is prepared to endorse the Clipper standard in exchange for new opportunities to market products. It may be a good deal for the coalition members, but it is a terrible outcome for the rest of the country.

We very much appreciate your efforts on behalf of open government, and your work with the Vice President and the Secretary of Commerce to develop the nation's information infrastructure. We believe that these efforts are sending our country in the right direction, helping to develop advanced technologies appropriate for a democratic nation and to preserve open and accountable government.

But the Clipper proposal was not a creation of your administration. It is a relic from a period that is now moving rapidly into the history books, a time when secret agencies made secret decisions and when backroom deals with powerful, private interests sustained these arrangements.

It is time to end this cynical form of policy making.

We ask you to reject the deal put forward by the Digital Privacy and Security Working Group. The Clipper proposal should not go forward.

We would be pleased to meet with members of your administration to discuss this matter further.

Sincerely yours,

Marc Rotenberg, Director
David Sobel, Legal Counsel
Dave Banisar, Policy Analyst
CPSR Washington office


The Vice President
Secretary Ron Brown, Department of Commerce
Anthony Lake, National Security Council
Computer System Security and Privacy Advisory Board

Return to main Clipper page.

Return to the CPSR home page.

Send mail to webmaster.

Archived CPSR Information
Created before October 2004

Sign up for CPSR announcements emails


International Chapters -

> Canada
> Japan
> Peru
> Spain

USA Chapters -

> Chicago, IL
> Pittsburgh, PA
> San Francisco Bay Area
> Seattle, WA
Why did you join CPSR?

I care about the issues that CPSR concerns itself, and I don't have the resources or time to address them personally.