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TUCoPS :: Crypto :: macneilc.txt

Open Sesame - McNeil-Lehrer News Hour report on Clipper

MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour, Thursday, 4/7/94
Transcribed by: }\/[arc Hedlund <>

Focus: "Open Sesame"

[Robin MacNeil:] Next tonight, law enforcement versus privacy on the
information highway.  A tiny piece of silicon, the Clipper Chip, has raised
questions about how to balance individual privacy rights with the needs of
law enforcement agencies in the computer age.  Time Magazine technology
editor, Philip Elmer-DeWitt, reports.

[DeWitt:] Today's high-tech information highway has a major drawback: for
some people, it's not private enough.  Many of the routine transactions
conducted by computer and over phone lines leave a trail of digital
"fingerprints:" messages recording the time, and date, and nature of the
transaction.  These are stored on computer disks, and can be easily traced.
Some consumers simply need absolute security, the assurance that
confidential phone calls, faxes, or financial transactions cannot be

[SKIT BEGINS: A phone rings.  Woman at desk answers it.]

[Woman at desk:] Good morning, AT&T.

[Man on phone:] Good morning, Ms. Bishop?  This is Mr. McGovern.

[DeWitt (as narrator):] To keep transactions private, computer experts
advise people to talk in code, as these representatives from AT&T

[Mr. McGovern:] I'd like to go secure if we could, please.  I'll come to
you.  [Presses button on scrambling device.]

[DeWitt:] They're scrambling their telephone call, just like spies do.

[Device displays: "Secure      dEOS"]

[Mr. McGovern:] Would you please give the first two numbers, and I will
give you the second two.

[Ms. Bishop:] Okay, the first two numbers are "dee," "ee."

[Mr. McGovern:] Fine, we're secure now.  [Fails to provide second two
numbers -- oh, bitter irony.]  And now I'd like to discuss some company
information with you.


[Unnamed cryptographer:] Okay, I can choose this option, to do both
"signature" and "encryption."

[DeWitt:] Cryptography is the science of making and breaking codes; of
turning plaintext into coded text, or cipher.....

[Cryptographer:] Okay, this is our old 1040 form.

[DeWitt:] taking this 1040 tax form and turning it into
unreadable ciphertext.

[Cryptographer:] This is your actual encrypted text of the 1040 form.

[Titling: "Marc Rotenberg, Computer Privacy Advocate."  The letters "cps"
are visible on a mug in the background.]

[Marc Rotenberg:] Cryptography is the way you make communication networks
secure.  It's the way you protect privacy, it's the way you make it
possible for banks to send financial information, for businesses to send
trade secrets, for individuals to send personal records, medical records,
financial data.  All of this happens because cryptography is the basic
technology of privacy.

[Titling: "Philip Elmer-DeWitt, Time Magazine."]

[DeWitt:] All modern encryption systems are variations on the secret code
school children use to jumble words.  The simplest kind of code is a
straight-forward letter-for-letter substitution.  For example, where A
stands for D, B stands for E, C stands for F, and so forth, down the
alphabet. These simple codes have evolved into mathematical formulas of
such extraordinary complexity that they're virtually unbreakable.

In the past few years, a new generation of very powerful encryption tools
has entered the marketplace.  They are easy to use, and easy to get, by
just about anybody; and they are a matter of concern to law enforcement and
national security experts who rely on information gathered from wiretaps to
do their jobs.  Geoffrey Greiveldinger is Special Counsel to the Justice

[Titling: "Geoffrey Greiveldinger, Department of Justice."]

[Greiveldinger:] There has become available, and there has certainly become
available in larger numbers and greater variety, very effective, very
user-friendly, very high voice-quality encryption; and suddenly the
prospect of encryption being used regularly in the private sector is one
that law enforcement recognizes it's going to have to grapple with.  That
really is what brought us up short.

[DeWitt:] Lynn McNulty is with the National Institute of Standards and

[Titling: "Lynn McNulty, National Institute of Standards & Technology."]

[McNulty:] Encryption is a double-edged sword.  It can be used to protect
law-abiding citizens, and it can also be used to shield criminal
activities, and also activities that could affect the security of this

[DeWitt:] Secret codes and national security are the bailiwick of the NSA,
the top-secret branch of government that sucks up international
communications traffic like a giant vacuum cleaner in the sky, using the
most powerful encryption technology available to tease out its secrets.

Cryptographers used to use mechanical devices, like this World War II-era
Enigma machine, to make and break secret codes.  Now they use
supercomputers, like this Cray XMP[?].  A cipher from one of these machines
[indicating Enigma] could be broken in a matter of minutes.  Supercomputers
can design secret codes so complex, that it would take another
supercomputer centuries to crack it; and that's a problem for the National
Security Agency, which gathers foreign intelligence for the U.S., and runs
this cryptological museum in Ft. Mead, Maryland.  The NSA has never met a
secret code it couldn't crack, and it wants to keep it that way.

So the NSA developed a new code, called Skipjack, and put it in this
silicon chip, smaller than a fingernail.  This is the Clipper Chip, the
focus of a fierce technological policy debate among privacy advocates, law
enforcement, and the business community.  The Clipper Chip combines a
powerful encryption scheme with a back door, a master key that unlocks the
code, and lets authorized law enforcement agents intercept, and understand,
coded messages.  The NSA wants the National Institute of Standards and
Technology, and all other government agencies, to use Clipper, and only
Clipper, when they want to make sure that their phone calls, faxes, and
electronic mail can't be intercepted.  To encourage its use in business,
the U.S. guarantees that the Clipper code is uncrackable, and that the
master keys that can unlock it are safely stored away.

In a plan devised by the NSA and approved by the White House, that master
key will be split into two pieces -- one held in safe keeping at the
Commerce Department, the other at Treasury.  Law enforcement agencies will
need a court order before they can get access to the keys.  Unauthorized
use of Clipper keys will be a felony, punishable by up to five years in

[McNulty:] There will be no vulnerability there that can be exploited by,
say, a rogue law-enforcement agency or by a hostile outsider to compromise
the keys that will allow authorized people to unlock the key-escrow
encryption cryptography.

[DeWitt:] But privacy advocates aren't so sure, like Marc Rotenberg of
Computer Scientists for Social Responsibility [DeWitt's error].  They see
Clipper as an attempt by the NSA to block people from using cryptography to
keep their affairs to themselves.  They're asking people to register their
objections by computer.

[Rotenberg:] Here we have, on the screen, a letter to the President; and we
asked them to simply send a message with the words, "I oppose Clipper."

[Titling: "Marc Rotenberg, Computer Privacy Advocate."]

[Rotenberg:] Basically, it's a proposal for surveillance.  It's a way to
make it easier to wiretap the network -- and the reason it's such a bad
idea is what we need right now is privacy protection.  We need more secure
networks, not more vulnerable networks.

[DeWitt:] On these networks, people are logging on to argue the pros and
cons of the Clipper proposal.  David Banisar, one of Rotenberg's
colleagues, has been tracking that debate.

[Titling: "David Banisar, Computer Privacy Advocate."]

[Banisar:] On the Internet, which is the international network of
computers, there's been an incredible amount of discussion.  There's been
thousands of messages posted, hundreds per day.  It goes on almost forever.
The public is going to reject this, because basically, we want a national
information infrastructure, where people can communicate, and we don't want
a national surveillance infrastructure, where the main purpose is for the
government to be able to control and watch over what we're doing all the

[DeWitt:] It may sound like Spies versus Nerds, but at the heart of the
Clipper debate is a fundamental question of Constitutional rights.  One
side thinks that people have a basic right to use the most powerful
encryption tools they can get their hands on, to keep their affairs
private.  The other thinks that that right must be superseded by the
legitimate needs of law enforcement.  There are cryptographers on both
sides of the debate.

[Titling: "Dorothy Denning, Georgetown University."]

[Denning:] I think it would be folly to let the capability to do electronic
surveillance be completely overridden by technology, so that we couldn't do
that.  I think it's a much safer bet to put it into the system so that we
can do it, and make sure that we have good procedural checks and laws and
so on, to govern the use of that so it's checked, and if it's misused, make
sure that's properly dealt with.

[Titling: "Whitfield Diffie, Sun Microsystems."]

[Diffie:] If you say to people that they, as a matter of fact, can't
protect their conversations, in particular their political conversations, I
think you take a long step toward making a transition from a free society
to a totalitarian society.

[DeWitt:] Meanwhile, the Clipper Chip is moving full speed ahead.  A
company called Mykotronix [?] is making the chips, and AT&T is selling a
variety of telephones with the chips built in; including this device, which
it is producing for the government to protect the privacy of the phone
calls within the Justice Department.  But it's not at all clear that the
devices will find a market outside the government.

Some of Clipper's most vocal opponents are the very computer and
telecommunications firms the government hopes will adopt it.  Their gripe
centers on the U.S. export laws that make it illegal to sell encryption
systems abroad.  To encourage U.S. companies to use the government's
system, the administration has lifted those export controls for Clipper --
but only for Clipper.

[Titling: "Jerry Berman, Electronic Frontier Foundation."]

[Berman:] You're going to thwart our foreign markets because no foreign
country, and no foreign person, is going to use a device that's made by
NSA, and where the keys are held by a U.S. government agency.

[DeWitt:] As the lines are strung to carry the traffic of the emerging
information highway, the greatest fear of privacy advocates is that Clipper
may be only the first step down a path that leads to more and more
government snooping. They point to a new bill the administration is
circulating on Capitol Hill, the so-called Digital Telephony bill, that
would require phone and cable companies to provide the government with
system-wide access to even more information.

[Titling: "Marc Rotenberg, Computer Privacy Advocate."]

[Rotenberg:] It is absolutely clear, if you look over the last three to
four years of the FBI's proposals, and the proposals from the National
Security Agency, that there is a plan, in steps, to restrict the use of
cryptography in the United States.  There's a plan to ensure that
communication networks are designed to facilitate wire surveillance; and
there is every reason to believe, after Clipper goes forward, after the
Digital Telephony proposal goes forward, that the next step will be to
restrict non-compliant cryptography.

[DeWitt:] In real life (or "RL," as computer buffs call it) it's often not
clear where to draw the line between the rights of the individual and the
needs of society.  It's no different in cyberspace, that world of
interconnected computers, where where messages fly back and forth on video
screens.  Experts say that the new information superhighway will have to
have some rules of the road.  The hard part is deciding where, and how, to
draw them.


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