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Re: W.Diffie on RSA patent
I thought this was all documented in the NYT. Does anyone have the
article? Anyway, Mr.Diffie says (see below) that nothing sinister
happened at the patent office regarding the RSA patent. I would like to
hear of any other patents that were suppressed by the NSA hiding behind
the patent office. I mean, this professor was definitely not making up
a story! She gave me the NYT reference but I think I accidentally threw
out the paper I wrote it on. Does anyone have the reference? I think it
happened in '78.
It sounds like you're talking about the Davida patent, or maybe the
zero-knowledge proof patent.
Here's the basic story. U.S. patent law contains a provision for
``secrecy orders''. That is, when you apply for a patent in certain
sensitive areas -- and cryptography is one of them -- the application
is routed to the appropriate government agencies, including NSA. If
they think the invention is too good, you'll receive a notice saying
that you not only can't get a patent, you're not even allowed to discuss
George Davida -- a professor -- was hit with just such an order.
Eventually, it was lifted, after a lot of public protest. NSA tried
claiming that the patent application proved that the issue was
commercial, rather than pure free speech, but they didn't try to fight
More recently, Shamir received a secrecy order on his zero-knowledge
proof patent. This was even more insane than usual, since (a) Shamir
is not a U.S. citizen, and (b) he'd already been discussing the idea
at conferences world-wide. According to rumor, this order was imposed
by the Army, and was lifted through NSA's intervention.
I know that the Shamir story was in the NY Times, though I don't have
the citation. A pointer in my files is:
journal name: Notices of the American Mathematical Society
journal date: Jan 88
volume/number: 35, 1
article title: Zero Knowledge and the Department of Defense
author(s) name: Susan Landau
page number: 5-12
but I don't have the article handy. The Davida story was probably
in the Times as well; my summary of it is taken from ``Cryptology
Goes Public'', by David Kahn, in ``Kahn on Codes'', 1983. The article
originally appeared in the Fall 1979 issue of ``Foreign Affairs''.