Monday, January 30, 2006

CALEA VoIP Tapping: Like Clipper Chip without all the benefits.

Remember the Clipper Chip? It was a microchip that the government was going to mandate be the standard encryption solution for digital devices. It used a secret algorithm developed by the NSA, and also had a secret "escrow key" that allowed the government to easliy listen in. It died in the mid-1990's after a wave of public backlash. (But the government only really gave up after someone discovered a flaw that let you disable the backdoor.)

Well, the Clipper Chip is back. Except this time, it's not a chip, and it doesn't offer the marginal benefit of encryption; the government just wants to listen in for free. The FCC wants to expand the existing CALEA law to mandate that every piece of hardware and software must have a backdoor for law enforcement wiretaps. (The government already has this ability with calls made over traditional phone networks!)

The problems are legion, even aside from the obvious privacy issues: the inability of law enforcement agencies to adequately keep secrets; mandated backdoors are hard to write without introducing flaws; backdoors might be exploitable by hackers; and innovation would slow as governmental approval mires the development of new software and hardware. Ugh. Say NO to expansion of CALEA!

(Full size retro anti-Clipper Chip ad here.)

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