Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

Clipper Meets Apple vs. FBI—A Comparison of the Cryptography Discourses from 1993 and 2016

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Abstract:  This article analyzes two cryptography discourses dealing with the question of whether governments should be able to monitor secure and encrypted communication, for example via security vulnerabilities in cryptographic systems. The Clipper chip debate of 1993 and the FBI vs. Apple case of 2016 are analyzed to infer whether these discourses show similarities in their arguments and to draw lessons from them. The study is based on the securitization framework and analyzes the social construction of security threats in political discourses. The findings are that the arguments made by the proponents of exceptional access show major continuities between the two cases. In contrast, the arguments of the critics are more diverse. The critical arguments for stronger encryption remain highly relevant, especially in the context of the Snowden revelations. The article concludes that we need to adopt a more general cyber security perspective, considering the threat of cyber crime and state hacking, when debating whether the government should be able to weaken encryption.

Keywords:  Apple; cryptowar; discourse analysis; encryption; FBI



© Matthias Schulze. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.