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to The Atlantic

Here is my final draft to the editor of The Atlantic in response to 
the June '94 article by James Fallows entitled "Open Secrets".

The Atlantic 
745 Boylston St.  
Boston, MA  02116

May 20, 1994

In James Fallows' article "Open Secrets" (June 1994), the Clipper chip
and Digital Telephony bill are discussed with admirable clarity.  The
presentation of public key cryptography is the best I have seen for a
lay audience. However, some incorrect implications from the article
might be assumed unless several additional facts are pointed out.

Government use of the Clipper chip is approved by the NSA for the
transmission of non-secret information. The article gives the
impression that Clipper is so strong that military and intelligence
services would use it, but this is not so.  Given this, concern is
warranted about Clipper's actual degree of security or about possible
secret back-doors.

The 50,000 people who supported an Internet petition against Clipper
were concerned about the classified nature of the algorithm.  The Open
Secrets article brushes this aside as an apparent distrust of
bureaucracy. In actuality, cryptographers have always maintained that
no cryptosystem can be trusted unless it is openly developed and
tested.  This is based on mathematical and programmatic aspects of
cryptography that are ubiquitously used in mathematical proofs and
software testing.  In the absence of this open development, the only
thing citizens can do is trust the NSA, an organization that is not
directly accountable to citizens.  However, the NSA has major
incentives to support cryptosystems which are breakable only by their
organization without using the escrow keys.  A back door is difficult
to recognize even in a non-secret algorithm, but in a secret algorithm
it is essentially impossible to determine.  (Historically, the NSA has
backed encryption technology that it can break; the DES algorithm it
approved for commercial usage is breakable by the NSA.)

The FBI has never released statistics about how they are thwarted by
encryption technology or by digital telephony.  How can a citizen judge
the need for Clipper and the Digital Telephony bill without such

The Digital Telephony bill broadly defines telephone technology and
even imposes exorbitant fines on private telephone systems that do not
implement remote wiretapping capabilities.  Since any multimedia
computer today can be turned into a telephone by simply adding
software, will this law have an unintended effect on individuals?  The
Digital Telephony bill will make wiretaps cheaper to implement because
the consumer pays for the implementation.  Since spying is limited by
economics, this bill could increase the extent to which wiretapping is
abused.  And finally, it should be mentioned that the first NIST press
release on the Clipper chip said that citizens do not have a right to
unbreakable encryption.  Thus, the administration started off with the
goal of restricting encryption and only after opposition did they start
saying Clipper was voluntary.  Given their original intentions, which
challenge the First Amendment, there is reason to be concerned.