EDIT: We're signing off with Phil today but we'll be answering as many questions as possible later. Thank you so much for today!

Hi Reddit! I’m Phil Zimmermann (u/prz1954) and I’m a software engineer and cryptographer. In 1991 I created Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), which became the most widely used email encryption software in the world. Little did I know my actions would make me the target of a three-year criminal investigation, and ignite the Crypto Wars of the 1990s. Together with the Hidden Heroes we’ll be answering your questions.

You can read my story on Hidden Heroes: https://hiddenheroes.netguru.com/philip-zimmermann

Proof: Here's my proof!

Comments: 596 • Responses: 2  • Date: 

el-puffi31 karma

What motivated you to create PGP?

Hidden_Heroes59 karma

As Phil shared within the story he "wanted to do something with privacy tools back in the 80s—and I felt like peace activists needed protection from the White House and other government agencies.”
For a stretch of time, his work on what would become PGP was more of a hobby than a central pursuit. But then, in January of 1991, then-Senator Joe Biden co-sponsored a bill known as the “Comprehensive Counter-Terrorism Act” that included a clause that triggered alarm bells in Zimmermann’s mind—and in the minds of other privacy advocates around the country. The proposed bill made it clear that Congress was getting ready to mandate that all encryption schemes include a “back door” where government agencies could get access to the data if a judge signed off on the surveillance request.

Mubix7731 karma

Did law enforcement ever contact you regarding PGP?

Hidden_Heroes56 karma

Yes! On a legal level, strong encryption was considered to be the equivalent of munitions. And the United States had laws on the books that prevented arms dealers from exporting weapons to foreign countries. Traditionally, those restrictions targeted machine gun or fighter jet manufacturers who were selling their physical goods to Saudi Arabia or Brazil. But if the legal definition of munitions included encryption software as well, then technically speaking, a coder uploading data to the Internet for anyone in the world to use, as Zimmermann did in 1991.
In February of 1993, Zimmermann got a call from two federal agent who wanted to talk about PGP. He was faced with a criminal investigation and a successful prosecution could have put Zimmermann in jail for up to five years, accompanied by fines of up to a million dollars.
You can read more in the story: https://hiddenheroes.netguru.com/philip-zimmermann