What the government should’ve learned about backdoors from the Clipper Chip

The MYK-78 "Clipper" chip, the 1990's version of the "golden key."

In the face of a Federal Bureau of Investigation proposal requesting backdoors into encrypted communications, a noted encryption expert urged Congress not to adopt the requirements due to technical faults in the plan. The shortcomings in question would allow anyone to easily defeat the measure with little technical effort.

Please note, the testimony referenced above was delivered on May 11, 1993. However, that doesn't change its applicability today. In fact, current pressure being applied by law enforcement and intelligence officials over end-to-end encrypted communications appears eerily reminiscent of a similar battle nearly 25 years ago.

Last week, FBI Director James Comey again pushed forward arguments for law enforcement "backdoors" into encrypted communication applications. Comey claimed that the gunmen who attempted to attack a Texas anti-Muslim cartoon event used encrypted communications several times on the day of the attack to contact an overseas individual tied to terrorism. The revelation is part of a renewed lobbying effort to get technology providers to provide what Comey once described as a "golden key" to access encrypted communications. Though the FBI director reluctantly dropped his lobbying efforts for such a backdoor this summer, the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have raised the issue again. Even President Obama recently asked for technology companies to help give the government access to communications over messaging applications and social media.

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