Electronic Privacy -- A WIRED Call to Action
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:
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
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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