Clipper Chip

The Bush Administration is now proposing a plan to monitor your internet use and enabling them to more easily intercept your e-mail messages.

“The official compared the system to Carnivore, the Internet wiretap system used by the F.B.I., saying: “Am I analogizing this to Carnivore? Absolutely. But in fact, it’s 10 times worse. Carnivore was working on much smaller feeds and could not scale. This is looking at the whole Internet.”

Check out this 1997 speech by then-Senator Ashcroft. The reason I’m writing now is that this speech was a flat-out lie. It was part of the ongoing right-wing campaign to discredit President Clinton among groups that would be his natural supporters – in this case discrediting him among internet users by claiming the Clinton Administration wanted to read their e-mail. In the speech Ashcroft says,

“The Clinton administration would like the Federal government to have the capability to read any international or domestic computer communications. The FBI wants access to decode, digest, and discuss financial transactions, personal e-mail, and proprietary information sent abroad — all in the name of national security. To accomplish this, President Clinton would like government agencies to have the keys for decoding all exported U.S. software and Internet communications.”

Let’s look at what was going on. At a time when anyone could listen in on any phone call or e-mail message because no one was using encryption, the Clinton Administration was proposing to implement a universal encryption chip, called the “Clipper Chip,” into all phones and computers, so that our phone and computer communications would be secure and no one could listen in except law enforcement – with a warrant. 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. In fact, this is the very reason why the Bush plan is so dangerous! This new Bush plan to monitor all of our internet activities is possible BECAUSE they blocked Clinton’s universal encryption chip. It just makes you want to scream.

Knowing that The Bush Administration is now proposing a plan to monitor our internet use, and even to monitor all of our e-mail messages, and this is possible because he was able to block Clinton’s plan to get us all using encryption, read the rest of his speech. It’s almost comical if only it weren’t so terrible.