Clipper Runs Aground; August 1993; Scientific American Magazine; by Paul Wallich; 1 Page(s)
Everyone seems to be listening in these days: tabloids regale readers with the cellular telephone intimacies of the British royal family, and more sober articles on the business pages tell how companies--or governments--devote resources to "signals intelligence" for commercial gain. So the Clinton administration might have thought it was doing everyone a favor in April when it proposed a new standard for encryption chips, developed with the aid of none other than the National Security Agency (NSA).
Instead the administration met with outrage. Along with the message, Clipper, as the chip is named, sends out a string of bits called a law enforcement field. Its purpose is to enable the police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to decode conversations that they wiretap pursuant to court order. In addition, the chip¿s encryption algorithm, known only as Skipjack, is classified. Thus, only a small cadre of cryptographic experts would be able to study it to determine whether or not it was indeed secure.