LIFE GETS HARDER FOR GOVernment electronic eavesdroppers. On Jan. 31, AT&T and chipmaker VLSI Technology announced a communications system so secure even the National Security Agency's supercomputers probably can't unscramble it without a battle. The NSA, FBI, and other agencies would much prefer companies to use the so-called Clipper chip, whose "back door" lets them read messages between suspected terrorists or crooks if they get a court order. AT&T says it will sell Clipper-based systems to anyone who wants them. But few customers do.

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