Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Commerce's NIST Announces Process for Dialogue on Key Escrow Issues

Furthering the Administration's commitment to defining a workable key escrow encryption strategy that would satisfy government and be acceptable to business and private users of cryptography, the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology announced today renewed dialogue on key escrow issues.

A Sept. 6-7 workshop will convene industry and government officials to discuss key escrow issues, including proposed liberalization of export control procedures for key escrow software products with key lengths up to 64 bits, which would benefit software manufacturers interested in building secure encryption products that can be used both domestically and abroad.

Key escrow encryption is part of the Administration's initiative to promote the use of strong techniques to protect the privacy of data and voice transmissions by companies, government agencies and others without compromising the government's ability to carry out lawful wiretaps.

In a July 1994 letter to former Rep. Maria Cantwell, Vice President Gore said that the government would work on developing exportable key escrow encryption systems that would allow escrow agents outside the government, not rely on classified algorithms, be implementable in hardware or software, and meet the needs of industry as well as law enforcement and national security. Since that time, discussions with industry have provided valuable guidance to the Administration in the development of this policy. For example, many companies are interested in using a corporate key escrow system to ensure reliable back-up access to encrypted information, and the renewed commitment should foster the development of such services.

Consideration of additional implementations of key escrow comes in response to concerns expressed by software industry representatives that the Administration's key escrow policies did not provide for a software implementation of key escrow and in light of the needs of federal agencies for commercial encryption products in hardware and software to protect unclassified information on computer and data networks.

Officials also announced a second workshop at which industry is invited to help develop additional Federal Information Processing Standards for key escrow encryption, specifically to include software implementations. This standards activity would provide federal government agencies with wider choices among approved key escrow encryption products using either hardware or software. Federal Information Processing Standards provide guidance to agencies of the federal government in their procurement and use of computer systems and equipment.

Industry representatives and others interested in joining this standards-development effort are invited to a key escrow standards exploratory workshop on Sept. 15 in Gaithersburg, Md. This workshop is an outgrowth of last year's meetings in which government and industry officials discussed possible technical approaches to software key escrow encryption.

The Escrowed Encryption Standard, a Federal Information Processing Standard for use by federal agencies and available for use by others, specifies use of a Key Escrow chip (once referred to as "Clipper chip") to provide strong encryption protection for sensitive but unclassified voice, fax and modem communications over telephone lines. Currently, this hardware-based standard is the only FIPS-approved key escrow technique. NIST officials anticipate proposing a revision to the Escrowed Encryption Standard to allow it to cover electronic data transmitted over computer networks. Under this revised federal standard, the Capstone chip and other hardware-based key escrow techniques developed for use in protecting such electronic data also will be approved for use by federal agencies.

As a non-regulatory agency of the Commerce Department's Technology Administration, NIST promotes U.S. economic growth by working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards.

Released August 17, 1995, Updated November 27, 2017