Tuesday, 25 September 2001 : "zimmerman"Even though I'm impressed overall with the breadth and depth of the Washington Post's coverage, and even though I keep linking to their stories, I do need to join many others in pointing out a particularly ugly lapse on their part.
On Sunday they printed a short piece about the author of PGP (software that makes it hard for anyone but the proper recipient to read your e-mails), Phil Zimmerman:
To Attacks' Toll Add a Programmer's Grief [Washington Post]
He has been overwhelmed with feelings of guilt.Zimmerman has sent out a clarification, which was posted on Slashdot and which I reproduce large chunks of here:
...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 age.
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. ... I can only speculate that her editors must have taken some inappropriate liberties in abbreviating my feelings to such an inaccurate soundbite.
...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...
The question of whether strong cryptography should be restricted by the government was debated all through the 1990's. ... 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.
As a Slashdot poster observed, no one seems to be interviewing the head of Boeing about his feelings of guilt over having made airplanes.
Would anyone call for a ban on 'security envelopes' that make it hard for mail carriers and nosy neighbors to peek at the contents? This isn't so different, and I wouldn't blame the manufacturer of the envelopes for what someone sent in them.
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