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Setting the record straight: Zimmermann on PGP use in times of terrorism.
From: InfoSec News <isn () c4i org>
Date: Tue, 25 Sep 2001 03:07:01 -0500 (CDT)
Forwarded from: "Jay D. Dyson" <jdyson () treachery net>
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Courtesy of Cryptography List.
Originally posted on Cypherpunks.
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From: "Sandy Sandfort" <sandfort () mindspring com>
To: "Cypherpunks" <cypherpunks () lne com>
Old-Subject: No Regrets About Developing PGP
Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2001 07:59:50 -0700
Subject: No Regrets About Developing PGP
Phil Zimmermann asked me to post this. He would like it freely
disseminated, so feel free to post it wherever you wish.
S a n d y
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No Regrets About Developing PGP
The Friday September 21st Washington Post carried an article by Ariana Cha
that I feel misrepresents my views on the role of PGP encryption software
in the September 11th terrorist attacks. She interviewed me on Monday
September 17th, and we talked about how I felt about the possibility that
the terrorists might have used PGP in planning their attack. The article
states that as the inventor of PGP, I was "overwhelmed with feelings of
guilt". I never implied that in the interview, and specifically went out
of my way to emphasize to her that that was not the case, and made her
repeat back to me this point so that she would not get it wrong in the
article. This misrepresentation is serious, because it implies that under
the duress of terrorism I have changed my principles on the importance of
cryptography for protecting privacy and civil liberties in the information
Because of the political sensitivity of how my views were to be expressed,
Ms. Cha read to me most of the article by phone before she submitted it to
her editors, and the article had no such statement or implication when she
read it to me. The article that appeared in the Post was significantly
shorter than the original, and had the abovementioned crucial change in
wording. I can only speculate that her editors must have taken some
inappropriate liberties in abbreviating my feelings to such an inaccurate
In the interview six days after the attack, we talked about the fact that
I had cried over the heartbreaking tragedy, as everyone else did. But the
tears were not because of guilt over the fact that I developed PGP, they
were over the human tragedy of it all. I also told her about some hate
mail I received that blamed me for developing a technology that could be
used by terrorists. I told her that I felt bad about the possibility of
terrorists using PGP, but that I also felt that this was outweighed by the
fact that PGP was a tool for human rights around the world, which was my
original intent in developing it ten years ago. It appears that this
nuance of reasoning was lost on someone at the Washington Post. I imagine
this may be caused by this newspaper's staff being stretched to their
limits last week.
In these emotional times, we in the crypto community find ourselves having
to defend our technology from well-intentioned but misguided efforts by
politicians to impose new regulations on the use of strong cryptography.
I do not want to give ammunition to these efforts by appearing to cave in
on my principles. I think the article correctly showed that I'm not an
ideologue when faced with a tragedy of this magnitude. Did I re-examine
my principles in the wake of this tragedy? Of course I did. But the
outcome of this re-examination was the same as it was during the years of
public debate, that strong cryptography does more good for a democratic
society than harm, even if it can be used by terrorists. Read my lips: I
have no regrets about developing PGP.
The question of whether strong cryptography should be restricted by the
government was debated all through the 1990's. This debate had the
participation of the White House, the NSA, the FBI, the courts, the
Congress, the computer industry, civilian academia, and the press. This
debate fully took into account the question of terrorists using strong
crypto, and in fact, that was one of the core issues of the debate.
Nonetheless, society's collective decision (over the FBI's objections) was
that on the whole, we would be better off with strong crypto, unencumbered
with government back doors. The export controls were lifted and no
domestic controls were imposed. I feel this was a good decision, because
we took the time and had such broad expert participation. Under the
present emotional pressure, if we make a rash decision to reverse such a
careful decision, it will only lead to terrible mistakes that will not
only hurt our democracy, but will also increase the vulnerability of our
national information infrastructure.
PGP users should rest assured that I would still not acquiesce to any back
doors in PGP.
It is noteworthy that I had only received a single piece of hate mail on
this subject. Because of all the press interviews I was dealing with, I
did not have time to quietly compose a carefully worded reply to the hate
mail, so I did not send a reply at all. After the article appeared, I
received hundreds of supportive emails, flooding in at two or three per
minute on the day of the article.
I have always enjoyed good relations with the press over the past decade,
especially with the Washington Post. I'm sure they will get it right next
The article in question appears at
24 September 2001
(This letter may be widely circulated)
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( ( _______
)) )) .-"There's always time for a good cup of coffee."-. >====<--.
C|~~|C|~~| (>------ Jay D. Dyson - jdyson () treachery net ------<) | = |-'
`--' `--' `--------------- rm -rf /bin/laden ---------------' `------'
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Comment: See http://www.treachery.net/~jdyson/ for current keys.
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- Setting the record straight: Zimmermann on PGP use in times of terrorism. InfoSec News (Sep 25)