Clipper Chip - Study Guide

Study Guide

  • Is there a fundamental right to non-escrowed encryption?

    • Right to privacy
      Some believe that privacy is a fundamental right, similar to freedom of speech or religion. Key escrow has the potential to disrupt this right. At the least, it is a constant threat of privacy invasion, providing an opening for the government or any criminals capable of abusing the escrow system.

    • Corporate security and espionage
      Encryption can be especially important to companies who must protect trade secrets and other intellectual property. Even if individuals don't enjoy an unalienable right to privacy, it can be vital to corporations. Would key escrow unfairly burden American businesses?

    • Problems for law enforcement
      Law enforcement agencies have made it clear that criminals use encryption to hide their activities. Terrorists being able to organize and communicate without the possibility of effective monitoring is especially troubling. The FBI and NSA have continued to back key escrow as a necessary step in combating crime and terrorism.

  • Can we trust the government with escrowed keys?

    • Two key agencies for protection
      Mindful of the possibility for abuse, the Clipper Chip plan calls for escrowed keys to be held in pieces by two separate key agencies. Even if security around one agency is compromised, keys remain secure. Only after a lawful court order can the escrowed keys be recovered.

    • Is this the government's job?
      By participating in key escrow, the government is taking an increasingly proactive role in crime enforcement. Some opponents claim that key escrow represents an encroachment on the freedom from unlawful searches.

  • Adoption of Clipper

    • Will voluntary adoption be effective?
      Key escrow can only be directly useful if criminals and terrorists use devices with the Clipper Chip. Keeping a voluntary adoption scheme may burden law abiding citizens while the people it is meant to combat continue using alternative encryption systems.

    • Can we ethically force adoption through legislation?
      A more forceful alternative to voluntary adoption is to make non-escrowed encryption systems illegal. However, such legislation would have large impacts on both businesses and private citizens. Would it be ethical to limit technology, research, and choices to force adoption of key escrow?

    • What are potential effects on American businesses?
      Adding in key escrow limits the technological choices that American businesses can make and adds an overhead cost. Furthermore, the international market will clearly favor non-escrowed systems. Would key escrow put American business at an unfair disadvantage?

    • Can Clipper be worthwile even if criminals don't use it?
      Some technologists predict a future where industry standard encryption makes secure phone conversations as simple as pressing a button. In such a world, much of society's infrastructure such as banking will natrually take advantage of these standardized devices. Proponents of Clipper say that even if criminals and terrorists develop their own encrpyion systems, they will be locked out of participating in the greater societal network.