The Clipper Chip (later renamed the Key Encryption Standard) is a cryptographic device purportedly intended to protect private communications while at the same time permitting government agents to obtain the "keys" upon presentation of "legal authorization."
The "keys" are held by two government escrow agents and would enable the government to access the encrypted private communication. While Clipper would be used to encrypt voice transmissions, a similar chip known as the Capstone chip would be used to encrypt data.
|“||The chip was mainly intended for protecting telecommunications over the public switched network. The key escrow scheme for the chip involves a SKIPJACK key that is common to all chips and that protects the unique serial number of the chip, and a second SKIPJACK key unique to the chip that protects all data encrypted by the chip. The second key is escrowed as split key components held by NIST and the U.S. Treasury Department.||”|
The Clipper Chip initiative generated considerable controversy within the information industry. According to the Computer System Security and Privacy Advisory Board, the federal government had not (1) clearly articulated the problem that the Clipper Chip attempts to resolve, (2) considered other potential alternatives, or (3) fully examined the chip’s legal and economic implications.