Find a Security Clearance Job!


(Uses tiny chip to encrypt transmissions)  (650)
By Jim Fuller
USIA Science Writer
Washington -- President Clinton has announced a plan for use of a new
technology to scramble telephone and computer transmissions to protect
privacy while still allowing law enforcement agencies to intercept the
phone conversations of criminals.
A White House statement released April 16 said that the new initiative is
based on a state-of-the-art microcircuit called the "Clipper Chip"
developed by the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of
Standards and Technology (NIST).
The chip can be installed in relatively inexpensive encryption devices that
can be attached to an ordinary telephone or computer to scramble
transmissions, preventing access by unauthorized eavesdroppers.  The new
encryption chip is more powerful and provides more security than many other
encryption products currently in use.
The new technology will be offered to private industry as part of a
voluntary program.  At the same time, the president has directed the
Secretary of Commerce to develop standards that will allow all federal
agencies to purchase and use the technology.
American Telephone and Telegraph has announced that it will incorporate the
new standard into its products.  A spokesman said that the Clipper Chip
would enable all commercially available AT&T voice encryption products to
be compatible with each other.
The White House statement said that, under the new plan, export licenses
will be granted on a case-by-case basis for U.S. companies that want to use
the devices to secure their communications abroad.
"The Clipper Chip is designed to protect U.S. business communications
against economic espionage, and will be used by government agencies to
protect sensitive information, including defense and intelligence-related
information," said Raymond Kammer, acting director of NIST.  "It can also
be used to protect the privacy of personal phone conversations."
At the same time, he said, the technology preserves the ability of law
enforcement agencies to lawfully intercept the phone conversations of
criminals, terrorists or drug dealers.
According to Kammer, the current problem is that several different
encryption devices are in use to protect business communications from
eavesdroppers.  But these systems also foil traditional means of
wiretapping used by law enforcement agencies.  It thus becomes more
difficult for these agencies to track down criminals or others who can use
these encryption devices.
Under the proposed new system, each device containing the Clipper Chip would
have two unique numbers, or "keys," needed by authorized government
agencies to decode the transmissions.  Manufacturers of the devices would
send the two numbers for each unit to a data base that would be established
by the U.S. Attorney General.
Only properly authorized government officials would get access to the keys.
The administration emphasized that authorities would never use the new
invention to wiretap without a proper court order.
"The Clipper Chip technology provides law enforcement with no new
authorities to access the content of the private conversations of
Americans," the White House statement said.
The Clipper Chip is currently being manufactured by only one company,
Mykotronx of Torrance, California.  However, it is expected that other
firms will be licensed to manufacture the chip in the future.
To demonstrate the effectiveness of the new chips, the White House said the
Attorney General will soon purchase several thousand of the devices.  In
addition, experts from outside the government will be offered access to the
confidential details of the chip's encryption algorithm to assess its
capabilities and report their findings.
The president has also ordered the Commerce Department to conduct a broad
review that will address the need to use voice or data encryption for
business purposes, the possibility of permitting increased exports of
encryption technology, and the ability of government officials to access
phone calls and data under existing legal authority.  The review is
expected to result in a new comprehensive policy on encryption.

Join the mailing list