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
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
December 8, 1993
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
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.
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