Jacking in from the Edge of the Abyss Port:
Washington, DC -- The White House, staring into the face of a withering groundswell of opposition for its endorsement a new security and privacy initiative, has blinked.
Vice President Gore said Feb. 10 that certain aspects of the Administration's new Clipper Chip encryption policy need to be changed. He made his remarks after appearing before the first meeting of the private sector advisory panel chosen by the White House to help develop policies for National Information Infrastructure. Panel member Mitch Kapor raised the issue, telling Gore that more than half the panel's members had serious concerns about the viability of the Clipper Chip policy.
Gore's remarks were aimed at the Justice Department's selection of two government agencies that would become "key escrow agents." These escrow agents would hold the electronic keys needed to crack Clipper encrypted conversations. Seems the Justice Department home boys are making Gore uncomfortable. What's more, the choices apparently caught Gore by surprise: "When I saw [the choices Justice made] I said, 'Wow, that is not right." Gore said he "raised hell" about choices Justice made to become so-called "key escrow agents."
Gore said he would prefer that the keys be guarded by some branch of the Judiciary or even private sector agencies. (Don't hold your breath on the latter.)
Justice announced February 4 that the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Automated Systems Division of the Treasury Dept. would control access to the keys needed to descramble Clipper encoded conversations. Gore said the choices for who holds the keys was going to be changed, but he gave no details.
Gore said the choices of NIST and ASD were "spun out" of some "low level" interagency discussions "and was not vetted at the top." That's Veep Speak for: "That dog won't hunt." Apparently, the Clinton Administration let the agencies have their head. Now it's paying the price for not paying closer attention.
The choices for the escrow agents might change, but the White House is solidly behind intent of its Clipper policy "in the absence of a better solution," Gore said. [That's vice- email@example.com for your better suggestions.]
Gore's statement are sure to bolster the grassroots opposition that's already gained sufficient momentum as well as give Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) some political cover to go forward calling for congressional hearings on the Clipper policy. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has begun an electronic petition drive to help stop Clipper and has set up an Email box for Leahy (firstname.lastname@example.org) so that Internet users can send him mail supporting his call for hearings.
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility also has an electronic anti-Clipper petition drive well underway. That effort is resulting in some 1,200 petitions per day streaming into CPSR's Washington, D.C. office.