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Zimmermann gets CPSR's Wiener Award
* * NEWS ADVISORY * *
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE August 22, 1996
Contact: Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
Duane Fickeisen, Interim Director
E-mail: [email protected]
Phil Zimmermann, controversial inventor of Pretty Good Privacy
(PGP), earned the prestigious Norbert Wiener Award of 1996. The Wiener
award is for excellence in promoting the responsible use of technology and
is given annually by Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR).
The award will be presented by CPSR board member Nathaniel
Borenstein at CPSR's annual meeting on October 19-20, 1996 at Georgetown
University in Washington, DC. The award to Zimmermann is related to the
theme of the conference, "Communications Unleashed: What's At Stake?
Who Benefits? How to Get Involved!," which focuses on the public interest
in stewardship of the dazzling array of emerging communications services
and issues related to free speech, copyright protection, and privacy online.
CPSR is a public-interest alliance of computer scientists and
others interested in the impact of computer technology on society. CPSR
attempts to direct public attention to difficult choices concerning the
applications of computing and how those choices affect society.
According to CPSR Interim Director Duane Fickeisen, PGP brings
critical privacy issues to public attention, because PGP allows the
average person to encode his or her email so only the receiver can read and
understand it. Until PGP came along, only governments or large
corporations could make their email secure.
In computer jargon, PGP is a "public-key encryption software."
Zimmermann, 42, created PGP and published it in the U.S.A. as "freeware"
(free software) in June of 1991.
Since its creation, PGP has spread all over the world, and has
since become the de facto worldwide standard for encryption of email.
Controversy came with government attempts to control encryption.
For three years Zimmermann was the target of a criminal investigation by
the US Customs Service, who assumed that laws were broken when PGP
spread outside the US. That investigation was closed without indictment in
Zimmermann wrote PGP from information in the open literature, putting
it into a convenient package that everyone can use in a desktop or palmtop
computer. "I gave it away for free, for the good of democracy. This
technology belongs to everybody," he says.
According to Zimmermann, the recent strides in electronic digital
communication brought with them a "disturbing erosion of our privacy. In
the past, if the government wanted to violate the privacy of ordinary
citizens, it had to expend a certain amount of effort to intercept and
steam open and read paper mail, and listen to and possibly transcribe
spoken telephone conversation. This is analogous to catching fish with a
hook and a line, one fish at a time. Fortunately for freedom and democracy,
this kind of labor-intensive monitoring is not practical on a large scale."
Today, human rights organizations such as Amnesty International are
using PGP to protect their people overseas. "PGP has spread like a prairie
fire, fanned by countless people who fervently want their privacy restored
in the information age," says Zimmermann.
Unfortunately, email messages are too easy to intercept and scan for
interesting keywords, such as "revolution" or "abortion." This "fishing"
can be done routinely and invisibly on a grand scale. When most of the
population becomes reliant on email, the government will be able to do
"driftnet fishing" -- making a quantitative and qualitative Orwellian
difference to the health of democracy, Zimmermann said.
Law enforcement and intelligence interests in the government have
attempted many times to suppress the availability of strong domestic
encryption technology. However, Zimmermann doubts their chances for
He says, "The rest of the world uses encryption and they laugh at
the US because we are railing against nature, trying to stop encoding
messages. Trying to stop this is like the buggy whip manufacturers trying
to stop the adoption of cars -- even with the NSA and the FBI on the
government side, it's still impossible. The information revolution is good
for democracy -- good for a free market and trade."
"The government has a track record that does not inspire confidence
that they will never abuse our civil liberties," says Zimmermann, who is
now Chairman of the Board and Chief Technology Officer for Pretty Good
Privacy, Inc. (PGP).
For more information on the conference or the Wiener Award,
contact CPSR at 415-322-3778, 703-739-9320, [email protected],
Susan Evoy * Deputy Director
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
P.O. Box 717 * Palo Alto * CA * 94302
Phone: (415) 322-3778 * Fax: (415) 322-4748 * Email: [email protected]