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Phil Zimmermann and PGP (Case History)

Philip R. Zimmermann is the creator of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP). For that, he was the target of a three-year criminal investigation because the government held that US export restrictions for cryptographic software were violated when PGP spread all around the world following its 1991 publication as freeware. After releasing PGP as shareware, someone else put it on the Internet and foreign citizens downloaded it. Cryptography programs in the United States are classified as munitions under federal law and may not be exported.

Despite the lack of funding, the lack of any paid staff, and the lack of a company to stand behind it, and despite government interventions, PGP nonetheless became the most widely used e-mail encryption software in the world. Oddly enough, the US government may have inadvertently contributed to PGP's spread because of the Zimmermann case.

The US government dropped the case in early 1996. The announcement was met with celebration by Internet activists. The Zimmermann case had become the story of an innocent person fighting for rights against the abuses of big government. The government's giving in was welcome news, in part because of the campaign for Internet censorship in Congress and the push by the FBI to allow increased government snooping.

After the government dropped its case, Zimmermann founded PGP Inc., which was acquired by Network Associates in December 1997. Zimmermann is now an independent consultant in matters cryptographic.

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