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Clipper Chip

[′klip·ər ‚chip]
(computer science)
A chip proposed by the United States government to be used in all devices that might use encryption, such as computers and communications devices, for which the government would have at least some access or control over the decryption key for purposes of surveillance.


A cryptography chip used by the U.S. government for telephone security that used the SkipJack algorithm and provided for key escrow. The federal government tried to make CLIPPER a universal method, because it alone could unscramble the data if required using independently-stored fragments of the Law-Enforcement Access Field (LEAF), which could be reassembled into a decryption key. The CLIPPER chip also included the CAPSTONE chip, which provided the actual cryptographic processing.

The proposal failed because of widespread rejection by the cryptographic community, which pointed out that nothing would preclude encrypting telephone transmissions with some other method before using a CLIPPER-chip equipped telephone unit. See Skipjack algorithm.
References in periodicals archive ?
Through CESA, the government renewed its support for key escrow and governmental access to decryption keys, the policy heavily criticized when embodied in the Clipper Chip.
Jealous of its privacy and freedom, the online community was quite in character in responding to Lotus Marketplace and the Clipper chip with resistance bordering on outrage.
If every telephone in America had a Clipper Chip on it as of tomorrow, there can be no doubt that net privacy in America would increase.
Government sales may permits-sought after economies of scale for the Clipper chip, but the ferocity of private opposition dims the prospects of the Clipper chip coming into widespread commercial use.
Because the Clipper Chip and Capstone algorithms do not comply with existing international standards, there are concerns that the added investment in hardware and personnel could make the technology unduly expensive to implement.
The Clipper and Capstone chips also represent only one possible approach to achieving a reasonable balance between unconstrained privacy and the needs of law enforcement and national security, Silvio Micali of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has proposed an alternative scheme - developed well before the Clipper chip announcement - that eschews complicated chips and special hardware in favor of a considerably more flexible, inexpensive software solution.
The government's Clipper Chip was criticized, in part, for using a classified algorithm (Skipjack).
Of course an extra wiretap tax, or some related mechanism, might be required to get local police to take into account nonphone company costs of preserving wiretaps, such as the extra Clipper chip costs and costs imposed by export restrictions.
During the 1990S the federal government tried to push the Clipper Chip, prosecute Phil Zimmermann for distributing homegrown cryptography, and mandate weaker software security.
a number of computer hardware, software and telecommunications companies said they intend to adopt an industry encryption standard to protect the privacy of telecommunications, rather than support the Clinton administration's Clipper chip standard.
Of the Clipper Chip and other surveillance features the government sought to build into computers and communications hardware, he said that "individuals will be outraged when they understand that the administration wants to hand the FBI access to your private communications.
Gorelick and Freeh both stressed the importance of implementing clipper chip technology that would force all citizens to use the same encryption program, to which the government would have the key.