Commercial Key Escrow

In mid-1994, the Clipper Chip proposal was pretty much sunk.

After the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995, opportunists seized the chance to rush through Congress a prefab Counter-Terrorism Bill, which included funding for Clipper.

In September 1995, the National Institute of Standards and Technology held a workshop to discuss their Commercial Key Escrow proposal, intended to reinvigorate the besieged Clipper.

The U.S. government's "key escrow" idea is to have encryption products with built-in back doors for law enforcement. Police and the feds would be able to decrypt any encrypted transmission (telephone conversation, computer disk, etc.) with their skeleton key.

The original Clipper proposal would have the federal government hold ("escrow") the decryption keys. The newer "Son of Clipper" Commercial Key Escrow proposal would have private companies hold the keys.

Commercial Key Escrow is subject to the same criticisms as the original proposal. The proposal is entirely weighted to the benefit of the intelligence and law enforcement communities, with little respect for business or individual needs. Strong encryption to evade key escrow is widely available. Free speech includes speaking encrypted.

Source: VTW BillWatch #17, September 7, 1995, from Shabbir J. Safdar of Voters Telecommunications Watch.