CyberWire Dispatch // Copyright (c) 1994 //

Jacking in from the "Eye-in-the-Sky" Port:


Washington, DC -- The Administration strongly urges you to fish for trout. Not Bluegill, not Bass, not Crappie or Carp. Just trout.

Understand that fishing for trout is entirely voluntary. Fishing for other fish isn't illegal. However, government issued fishing licenses allow you to catch only trout. But nobody's forcing you to fish for trout. This is important to understand.

But "Trout" in this case really means "Clipper Chip," the government-backed encryption standard that the Clinton Administration is strongly urging industry to voluntarily build into every type of communications device from phone to fax to set-top cable TV converters.

The Administration isn't jerking around with this issue, they're playing hardball.

The Policy Please

The White House today (Thurs.) released its new Commercial Remote Sensing Policy. This seemingly arcane subject deals with how much spy vs. spy satellite photo technology can be dumped onto the open market. A market U.S. satellite companies have been banned from participating in, forced to sit on the sidelines while those loveable French guys from Spot, are selling their satellite photos faster than they can take them. Hell, even the Russians are selling their *military intelligence* satellite photos now on the open market.

Until today, U.S. firms weren't allowed that opportunity. National security issues and all that, you understand. "The policy announced today demonstrates the Administration's commitment to remove unnecessary Cold War barriers that prevent American companies from competing in the global marketplace," said Rep. George Brown (D-Cal.), chairman of the Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Nice work, George. Too bad you gave away the fucking farm.

Dip in Your Thumb, Pull Out a Data Burst

The new policy, acclaimed by Brown, sets out 8 specific conditions that apply to any U.S. company that receives an operating license under the Remote Sensing Policy Act of 1992. First, that company has to keep records of every single photo it takes, why it was taken and who requested it. You have to keep those records on file for at least a year. Why? "To allow the USG [United States Government] access to this record," the Act says.

Things really start to heat up around condition five, which states: "All encryption devices must be approved by the US Government for the purpose of denying unauthorized access to others during periods when national security, international obligations and/or foreign policies may be compromised..."

You tell me what that sounds like? If you guessed "trout," you're right.

Condition 6 says that all license holders "must use a data downlink that allows the US Government access and use of the data during periods when national security, international obligations... may be compromised." Nice touch, eh?

Condition 7 is the Automatic Bankrupting Clause. It says, in essence, that Uncle Sam can shut down your entire operation -- totally disrupting your cash flow -- if there's some kind of national crisis, such as the Gulf War, or rioting in Los Angeles for that matter. The basis for shutting you down comes from Secretaries of Commerce, State and Defense. There's also no provision requiring the Government to reimburse the companies they shut down for any lost revenues.

Oh, and if you simply want to build one of these hot satellite birds and sell it to another country, you first have to make sure the buyer willingly accepts U.S. Government approved encryption and data interception technologies that are required to be built into every remote sensing device.

How many actually sales do you think will be made?? Yeah, me too.

Don't Pee In My Stream

It's clear that the Clinton Administration is going to make it difficult, if not impossible, for the U.S. high tech industry to do any kind of business without first adopting its "voluntary" Clipper standard.

Hell, it's your choice, Mister Hot Silicon Valley Entrepreneur. You either hot-wire that whiz-bang gizmo with Clipper technology if you want those government operating licenses or you retool your assembly line and start cranking out Barbie Dolls.

Your choice, of course. Trout fishing in the data stream, is after all, entirely voluntary.

Meeks out...