Clipper, and its underlying key-escrow encryption technology, are designed to guarantee government agents "real-time" access to encrypted communications. This is accomplished by placing an extra set of decryption "keys" in the hands of designated "escrow agents."
The conclusions contained in the documents appear to conflict with frequent Administration claims that use of Clipper technology will remain "voluntary." Critics of the government's initiative, including EPIC, have long maintained that the Clipper "key-escrow encryption" technique would only serve its stated purpose if made mandatory. According to the FBI documents, that view is shared by the Bureau, the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ).
In a "briefing document" titled "Encryption: The Threat, Applications and Potential Solutions," and sent to the National Security Council in February 1993, the FBI, NSA and DOJ concluded that:
Technical solutions, such as they are, will only work if they are incorporated into *all* encryption products. To ensure that this occurs, legislation mandating the use of Government-approved encryption products or adherence to Government encryption criteria is required.Likewise, an undated FBI report titled "Impact of Emerging Telecommunications Technologies on Law Enforcement" observes that "[a]lthough the export of encryption products by the United States is controlled, domestic use is not regulated." The report concludes that "a national policy embodied in legislation is needed." Such a policy, according to the FBI, must ensure "real-time decryption by law enforcement" and "prohibit[ ] cryptography that cannot meet the Government standard."
The FBI conclusions stand in stark contrast to public assurances that the government does not intend to prohibit the use of non-escrowed encryption. Testifying before a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on May 3, 1994, Assistant Attorney General Jo Ann Harris asserted that:
As the Administration has made clear on a number of occasions, the key-escrow encryption initiative is a voluntary one; we have absolutely no intention of mandating private use of a particular kind of cryptography, nor of criminalizing the private use of certain kinds of cryptography.According to EPIC Legal Counsel David Sobel, the newly- disclosed information "demonstrates that the architects of the Clipper program -- NSA and the FBI -- have always recognized that key-escrow must eventually be mandated. As privacy advocates and industry have always said, Clipper does nothing for law enforcement unless the alternatives are outlawed."
Scanned images of several key documents are available via the World Wide Web at the EPIC Home Page: