Electronic Privacy -- A WIRED Call to Action

Stanton McCandlish mech at eff.org
Fri Feb 18 11:41:02 PST 1994

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Electronic Privacy -- A Call to Action

This is a pivotal moment in history. 

The national security state, with the backing of the Clinton-Gore 
administration, is attempting a stealth strike on our rights. If they 
succeed, we could shortly find ourselves under a government with the 
automated ability to log the time, origin, and recipient of every call and 
e-mail message, to monitor our most private communications, to track our 
physical whereabouts continuously, and to keep better account of our 
financial transactions than we do -- all without a warrant.

Fact: On Friday, February 4, 1994, the Clinton administration announced 
support for the Clipper Chip and SKIPJACK encryption scheme as national 

Fact: Federal security agencies have been meeting with telecommunications 
companies to design back doors into the entire National Information 
Infrastructure (NII), including every telephone and data network, even 
including fax machines. In other words, any system connected to the NII 
would be required to include a "back door" in order to facilitate 
monitoring by government agencies.

We at WIRED Online believe that the adoption of these administration 
initiatives could result in a profound infringement of individual freedom 
and privacy, ours as well as yours. We urge you to read the rest of this 
letter, to examine the available materials, to consider these important 
issues for yourself, and to act to preserve the Bill of Rights in 

The proposed encryption scheme, which uses the SKIPJACK encryption 
algorithm and the Clipper Chip, relies on a "key escrow" system with a 
built-in "back door" so that security agents can decrypt and monitor even 
supposedly "secure" communications. While the administration claims that 
there will be "safeguards," the technology was developed by the virtually 
insular National Security Agency, and its algorithms remain classified.

The scope of Clipper is significantly broader than any previous 
surveillance strategy. The Clipper Chip will be installed directly into 
telecommunications devices such as telephones, computers, and digital set-
top boxes for interactive TV. Since the system can be used to encrypt any 
communications that pass across telecommunications lines (including text, 
sound and images), ANY AND ALL communication that passes through your 
system has the possibility of being intercepted. 

In addition, the administration's Information Infrastructure Task Force 
Working Group on Privacy is attempting to "front load" the NII with 
trapdoor technologies that would allow security agencies easy access to 
digitial conversations, including capturing electronic communications 
midstream. No communication system would be exempt from this effort, from 
the national telephone network to your local office computer network.

Of course, the administration claims that these trapdoors will be used only 
to catch criminals and that your privacy will be protected. But, as John 
Perry Barlow has put it, "trusting the government with your privacy is like 
trusting a Peeping Tom to install your window blinds." 

These government inititatives, taken together, constitute one of the most 
grievous threats to our constitutional liberties in modern times. The 
security agencies and the administration are involved in a stealth strike 
at our freedoms that could effectively abrogate the Bill of Rights in 
cyberspace, where we and our descendants will be spending increasingly 
larger parts of lives.

The Clipper initiative and the plans to require "back doors" throughout the 
NII immediate critical assessment. WIRED encourages you to seriously 
consider how these proposals might affect you. To help inform your 
decision, WIRED Online has set up a Clipper information archive through our 
Infobot mail server, Internet Gopher, World Wide Web, and other online 

The WIRED Online Clipper Archive features crucial essays written for WIRED 
by John Perry Barlow and Brock N. Meeks. If you do nothing else, read these 
stories. You can have them sent to you immediately by electronic mail by 
copying the following three lines into the body of an electronic mail 
message addressed to infobot at wired.com:

   send clipper/privacy.meeks
   send clipper/privacy.barlow

The WIRED Online Clipper Archive also includes re-posted comments from 
Jerry Berman (of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)) and Dorothy 
Denning (encryption expert and Clipper proponent), a copy of the EFF's 
_EFFector Online_ newsletter documenting the Clipper controversy, and an 
electronic anti-Clipper petition circulated by the Computer Professionals 
for Social Responsibility (CPSR). We have also set up links to other 
valuable sources of information on Clipper, including those maintained by 
the EFF and CPSR.

You can access our archive via the following WIRED Online services:

  o WIRED Infobot e-mail server     send e-mail to infobot at wired.com,
                                    containing the words "send 
                                    clipper/index" on a single
                                    line inside the message body

  o WIRED Gopher                    gopher to gopher.wired.com
                                    select "Clipper Archive"

  o WIRED on World Wide Web         http://www.wired.com
                                    select "Clipper Archive"

  o WIRED on America Online         keyword: WIRED

  o WIRED on the WELL               type "go wired" from any "OK" prompt
                                    type "clipper" to access the menu 

WIRED Online encourages you to take the time to familiarize yourself with 
these issues, beginning with the tools and access we've provided. Then take 
the next step -- ACT!!! Sign the CPSR petition against Clipper. Call or 
write your Congressional representatives and let them know how you feel 
about the Clipper and NII "backdoor" initiatives, BEFORE a decision is made 
for you that will have a profound effect on the future of your freedom and 

Please do not reply to this message directly. To discuss these issues with 
WIRED readers and staff members, please use discussion areas on the WELL, 
America Online, and USENET (alt.wired). If you have questions or comments 
about Clipper that are not answered in the online archives or these 
discussion spaces, please address them to online at wired.com and be sure to 
include the word "clipper" in the subject line. 

If you would like to receive future WIRED-related bulletins, you can 
subscribe to our new Hotwired mailing list. To do so, just send an e-mail 
message to infobot at wired.com containing the line

   subscribe hotwired

This low-volume moderated list is a great way to keep abreast of important 
issues on the Digital Frontier and to find out about new services offered 
here at WIRED Online.

Thanks for your attention.

-- The staff of WIRED Online

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