Privacy and Government Snooping
August 29, 2006 § Leave a comment
Today we are going to explore the world of PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) and its open-source counter-part GnuPG (Gnu Privacy Guard). My intention is to inform you of the history and intent behind these ingenious applications and persuade you to learn and implement the practice of “Trust” and “Privacy“. Recent developments have shown that our government’s interests in national security compromise the privacy of its citizens. However, efforts such as wiretapping and other initiatives which compromise security have not been generally accepted and in fact deemed unconstitutional. In August 2006, a US Judge ruled against the governments efforts to pass a law permitting government snooping,
“U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit became the first judge to strike down the National Security Agency’s program, which she says violates the rights to free speech and privacy, as well as the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution.” (Sarah Karush, AP)
However, the National Security Agency has many supporters in high places who believe in wiretapping and email surveillance programs. As a result the possibility of our privacy as American citizens is being threatened. Which is why I am recommending the use of digital certificates and digital encryption as a safeguard against fraud and privacy infringement. Because unbeknown to many Americans, this recent attempt to spy on us is not the first time the US Government has tried to pass a Bill like this…
It all started in 1976, a cryptographer and privacy advocate named Whitfield Diffie, together with an electrical engineer named Martin Hellman discovered a public key cryptography known today as the DH (Diffie-Hellman) Key Exchange. However, in 1977 three researchers at MIT named, Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Len Adleman discovered another more general public key system called RSA. Interestingly, Shamir was not even a US citizen, he is an Israeli national and the NSA tried to prevent him from ever leaving the US, he is currently teaching at the Weitzmann Institute in Israel; evidently the NSA failed.
MIT ignored the NSA’s attempts to suppress this development and published the RSA anyway. RSA is a mathematical algorithm which can be used to encrypt data in a way that is nearly impossible to break. Throughout the next 20 years there were attempts to develop more advanced algorithms and methods to encrypt data. Many of these explorations have attracted organizations like the CIA, KGB, Communist China and other National Defense organizations which led to international espionage and other comic book like investigations in the 1980s. In the 1980 Saddam Hussein was in power, and Iraq became a secret US ally against Iran. These technologies were a key tool in the intelligence exchange between the allied US and Iraqi forces of that time.
Years later, on April 17, 1991 the New York Times reported an unsettling US Senate proposal that was part of a counter-terrorism bill. This forced all manufacturers of secure communications equipment to insert a special “back door” in their products, so that the US Government can read anyone’s encrypted messages. This bill read,
“It is the sense of Congress that providers of eletronic commmunications services and manufacturers of electronic communications service equipment shall insure that communications systems permit the Government to obtain the plain text contents of voice, data, and other communications when appropriately authorized by law”. (Proposed Senate Bill 266)
Senate Bill 266 eventually failed to pass into a law. However, recently the US Government tried once again to pass a similar Bill.
As a result of the US Government’s interests, historically I would like to personally recommend the use of data encryption for email security is PGP/GnuPG. It is safe reliable and widely used. Its creator is named Phil Zimmerman and he developed the PGP around the time of Senate Bill 266’s failure.
Zimmerman, an Internet folk hero and cryptography legend sustained a great deal of criticism from the neoconservative right concerning his work and during the the early-mid 1990s when PGP grew in popularity, Zimmerman was under attack from the US Government. The US Government decided that Zimmerman’s efforts were a threat to national security, these accusations were soon found unwarranted and Zimmerman was given his due credit for his scientific contributions in email security and encryption.
In conclusion, the issue of wiretapping and government snooping has been controversial but thanks to scientists such as Whitfield Diffie, Martin Hellman, Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, Len Adleman and Phil Zimmerman, we have secure and reliable solutions for data encryption. Today PGP is legal both inside and outside the US, new developments are surfacing based on the technology inspired by Zimmerman’s PGP design. I would like to urge each of you to use public key cryptography when dealing with sensitive data on the Internet. It is a great way to ensure privacy when sending email messages.