Josh Davis

I'm currently an Engineer working on machine learning at AWS and am living in Seattle.

I like to learn, pet kittens, and wear fluffy socks.

I never save anything for the swim back.

22 June 2013

Phil Zimmermann, Creator of PGP, Quote on Government & Crypto from 1996

Today I finished reading The Code Book by Simon Singh. It details the history of cryptography from millenniums ago until the recent advances with quantum cryptography.

In it there is a chapter dedicated to Pretty Good Privacy or more commonly known as PGP. PGP was created by Phil Zimmermann in 1991 and turned strong cryptographic practices into something everyone could use.

In the book it has a quotation from Zimmermann from an interview with a radio show, High Tech Today, recorded in February 1996, over 17 years ago. Although it is slightly different in the book, I hunted down the original. The interview can still be read in its entirety.

Here’s the quote:

Today we live in the information age. Everyone has computers. All the trappings of the information age are part of our lives. Paper mail is being replaced by electronic mail. Digital communications is taking over. We need encryption. The common person needs encryption to function effectively in the information age. So it’s time for cryptography to step out of the shadows of spies and military stuff, and step out into the sunshine and be embraced by the rest of us.

If our government ever goes bad, as sometimes happens in a democracy… Sometimes in a democracy bad people can be elected, and if democracy is allowed to function normally, these people can be taken out of power by the next election. But if a future government inherits a technology infrastructure that’s optimized for surveillance, where they can watch the movements of their political opposition, they can see every bit of travel they could do, every financial transaction, every communication, every bit of email, every phone call, everything could be filtered and scanned and automatically recognized by voice recognition technology and transcribed.

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