As the creator of the Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption software, Zimmermann has for years found himself in the middle of a debate about how much power individuals should have. More good, he has maintained, comes from giving individuals the power to send encrypted e-mails than would come from blocking a handful of zealots from exploiting the tool.
Zimmermann has likened PGP to the automobile in one analogy. When Bonnie and Clyde used the automobile to get away from the scenes of bank robberies and cross state and county lines, no one had ever done such a thing. The initial reaction among some law enforcement groups was to call for the banning of the private automobile. However, what changed were people’s attitudes and laws; for instance, law enforcement was no longer blocked from pursuing suspects across state and county lines.
The same principal holds true with high-tech tools that empower many law-abiding people to protect their privacy for personal, business or political reasons.
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Zimmermann said he has no regrets about making his PGP code widely available. He bristles at the idea that he feels guilty that terrorists or anyone else might have used his invention for nefarious purposes.
Zimmermann said he was shocked to see a story in The Washington Post suggesting that he felt responsible for giving terrorists a way to communicate with one another outside of government surveillance.
He went so far as to publish a response to the Post article on his Web site.