Clipper Chip Again

Well I always like to rile up Seeing the Forest’s readers, and few subjects do that better than bringing up the whole “Clipper Chip” controversey from the Clinton years. But now, with the revelations about Bush initiating NSA spying on Americans without warrants, I feel there could be no better time than now to get everyone commenting.
You see, except in very, very rare cases our e-mail and phone calls are not encrypted, which lets anyone with the right equipment listen in. Because of this problem the Clinton Administration proposed a standardized encryption chip that would go into all computers and phones. The result of using this chip would be that every call and e-mail would be encrypted automatically so no one could eavesdrop. “Conservative movement’ Republicans blocked Clinton’s efforts, and now here we are with “conservative movement’ Republicans listening to our phone calls and reading our e-mails. DUH!


Three years ago I wrote a post saying,

The Republicans intentionally spread the ridiculous lie that this was an attempt to listen in on our communications. Because of the cynical, suspicious anti-government environment that Republican messaging had created this lie caught on.
The basis for the Republicans’ smear was that the Administration had a plan to allow law enforcement officials to break the code if they obtained a warrant. (Nothing would stop people from using their own encryption if they wanted to.) Ironically, this was specifically so they could listen in on potential terrorists. This is what the Republicans claimed was Clinton planning to listen in! Now remember, without the chip the government theoretically could listen in on any communications, because no one was using encryption. Clinton’s plan to keep people from being able to listen in was described as a plan to listen in, and people bought it.
And because they were able to block this chip, no one is encrypting now.

So here we are.
How well did the “conservative movement’ push everyone’s buttons back then, using anti-government inclinations to make people think Clinton was trying to bug their phones? Two birds with one stone – smear Clinton and leave us all vulnerable to wiretapping.
And, coming off of my last tin-foil-hat post, who benefitted most from America’s communications being wide open? Who paid for all those articles and op-eds about how Clinton was trying to spy on us? And who the hell funds the Moonies and their Washington Times and their hundreds of front-organizations masquerading as “conservatives?”

m4s0n501

12 thoughts on “Clipper Chip Again

  1. Arrggghhhhhh, run for your lives!
    Let me try to explain this one more time, Dave.
    The Clipper chip was a horrible idea. Just as unconstitutional as Bush’s NSA scandal. Yes, JUST AS BAD.
    Everyone who cares AT ALL about securing their communications can do so. The only real obstacle is algorithm patents and all the usual strangling of technological progress they entail.
    Your argument in favor of the Clipper chip proposal is transparent crap. It is wrong in every important matter of fact, and it invents motivations ascribed to the proposal’s advocates and its opponents which are exactly the reverse of reality.

  2. No, I’m not going to third grade with you. This is common knowledge at a really primitive level. You’re just making stuff up and then asking a Known Lazy Person (me) to go do homework. Blow me.

  3. Perhaps someone would explain it to a novice like me?
    At this point the argument is this:
    1. Email and phone communications (presumably cell and not POT) are not secure and anyone with the proper technical background can listen in.
    2. These items can be encrypted and anyone with the proper technical background can do so.
    3. Most people lack the proper technical background and lack the resources to hire people with the proper technical background.
    4. Government (which in our former representative democracy meant all of us collectively) has the resources to hire people with the proper technical background to spy on us. This should concern everyone.
    5. Dave explains President Clinton’s proposal as requiring encryption of all of these types of communications but with a “backdoor” that government could use with a proper warrant, which is consistent with the 4th amendment.
    6. Just to show off: The 4th Amendment has been construed to mean that all warrantless searches are per se unreasonable, UNLESS the search falls into certain well defined catagores. All other searches require a warrant issued by a neutral and detached magistrate (among other things meaning NOT someone in the executive department) based upon probable cause that a crime has been committed and more likely than not the searchee has committed the crime and/or has the items/evidence from/of the crime.
    7. The one applicable exception to the 4th Amendment requirement of a search warrant is items which are in plain view of anyone, including law enforcement.
    8. These types of unencrypted communication are considered to be in plain view- meaning No Warrant Required (DANGER! Will Robinson, Danger!). Yes I know the Administration has not argued this yet- I suspect that is because they went a hell of a lot further and besides the need to get get warrants (or the lack of need in certain cases) conflicts with the John Yoo theory of Bush is King, he can do anything.
    9. Richard’s argment seems to be anyone can encrypt these types of communications, therefore President Clinton’s bill was suspect. Very libertarian and somewhat elitest.
    9. The fallacy of Richard’s argument seems to be not everyone has the proper technical background or the time to learn.
    10. Dave’s argument seems to be:
    a. Not everyone has the proper technical background or the time to learn, lets put our collective resources together and do it for everyone and remove these types of communications from plain view and rely on the protections of our constitution which require the government to get a warrant issued by a neutral and detached magistrate based upon probable cause that a crime has been committed…
    b. Dave also throws in that those with a the proper technical background or the time to learn can add additional encryption.
    Dave seems to be presenting the traditional New Deal Democratic argument.
    So what am I missing? Presumbably Richard has the proper technical background, but I don’t. Nor do I have time to learn. Under Richard’s argument, my email and cell phone conversations remain in plain view. Tough Shit, its my own fault.
    What are the practical considerations? Currently all of these types of communications are in plain view- no warrant required. Those with technical expertise (Richard) can encrypt, remove their email and cell phone communications from plain view and require the governement to get a warrant and have some really good techincal expertise to read/listen to them (assuming the constitution has any meaning under the Bush regime). Under the Clinton proposal, all of these types of unsecured communications are removed from plain view, meaning government has to get a warrant AND Those with technical expertise (Richard) can encrypt, and require the governement to not only get a warrant but have some really good techincal expertise to read/listen to them.

  4. Here it is only six months from mid-term elections and we STILL do not have laws requiring electronic voting machines to leave a paper trail. If we allow the neocons to rig all future elections, why bother voting at all?! Yesterday, while the Senate was on holiday, Bush appointed four of his cronies to the Federal Election Commission, knowing it would be much easier to get approved with the Senate gone. How much more damn proof do we need to realize that this adminsitration is digging in for the long haul. If we don’t solve this paper trail situation, we can ALL kiss the Constitution good bye!

  5. Any details at all? Such as WHY it is wrong? Or HOW anyone who wants to can secure their communications?
    Essentially the clipper chip would have given the NSA a back door into every computer in the US. For that reason alone it would have killed our computer industry. It also would have been the defacto end of the fourth ammendment.
    Clinton was a great President, but not on the fourth amendement.

  6. Under President Clinton’s proposal, would a warrant issued by a neutral and detached magistrate based upon probable cause have been required, or did the proposal by President Clinton dispense with that? If the former, the proposal would have been consistent with the 4th amendment. If the latter, then it would not.
    Please include source for your information.

  7. Under President Clinton’s proposal, would a warrant issued by a neutral and detached magistrate based upon probable cause have been required, or did the proposal by President Clinton dispense with that?
    Under Clinton’s proposal the legal requirements for wiretap would have been untouched. However, the idea that you would put something like that in place and future governments would respect it is laughable. Besides, who is going to buy IT equipment from the US if it is known that it all comes with a NSA compatible clipper chip? The end of any exports we might have.

  8. “Essentially the clipper chip would have given the NSA a back door into every computer in the US. For that reason alone it would have killed our computer industry.”
    Computers are wide open NOW. They do not NEED a “back door” because anyone can currently listen in on any voice or email communications in the United States UNLESS encryption is being used. Once again, there is no NEED for a “back door” because there are no doors at all now. Once again, with the system we have in place now ANYONE can tap into ANY coversation without requiring any “back door.”
    The Clipper Chip was an encryption device that would have SECURED all communications. It would have made EVERY voice and e-mail communication impossible to tap. The reason this is needed is because non-American business and intelligence interests ARE listening in.
    Because this level of security would have prevented law enforcement from being able to listen in, even with a warrant, there was a system for placing the “keys” in escrow, for use when a warrant is obtained.
    However, there would have been nothing to prevent people from encrypting their messages themelves before it went through the Clipper Chip. So without the Clipper Chip anyone using encryption stands out because they are using encryption, and eavesdroppers can focus in on the encrypted communications and spend the necessary effort to crack them. WITH the Clipper chip there would be no way for interested parties to know who was adding their own encryption, so they wold not know who to focus in on.
    Currently ANYONE can listen in on ANY communications. With the Clipper chip the ONLY way anyone could listen in on any communication would be to get the “keys” with a warrant.
    About the keys – EVERY encryption system uses keys. So the question is, where do you want to get your encryption system from? A major corporation? The Japanese or Chinese? Or a system the government guarantees no one can listen to without a warrant?

  9. Clinton was a great President, but not on the fourth amendement…
    Under Clinton’s proposal the legal requirements for wiretap would have been untouched.
    I think it is fair to say your earlier point is withdrawn by your later point. That leaves you with not trusting the government to live up to the rules. Unfortunately that is an issue that democratic governments always face and the ultimate arbiter is the voters.
    What that doesn’t solve is the issue that the computers, cell phomes and emails are already unsecured and any Tom, Dick or Harry (including the Government) with the technical knowhow can already invade your privacy with or without a warrant and yes the George W. Bush’s of the world (under the Yoo theory that Bush is King, he can do anything) don’t respect the rule of law or the constitution or American values. That said, one more law on the books recognizing the requirement to get a warrant can’t have been a bad thing, and giving those of us without technical backgrounds more security from hackers who have no obligation to follow the constitution seems like a good idea to me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


4 × nine =

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>