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Zimmermann slams Cameron’s ‘absurd’ plans for crypto ban

GCHQ has ‘never had it so good’ claims privacy pioneer

Crypto pioneer Phil Zimmermann has labelled UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s anti-encryption plans as "absurd".

Zimmermann, creator of the PGP email privacy package, countered Cameron's argument that encryption is creating a means for terrorists and child abusers to communicate in private, arguing instead that intelligence agencies such as GCHQ and the NSA have "never had it so good".

Strong encryption technology is one of the few success stories in online security, according to the co-founder of secure communications firm Silent Circle.

Cameron is pushing the idea of banning crypto products that UK spies are unable to access, an idea he first floated in a recent speech before lobbying US President Barack Obama on the issue.

Unsurprisingly, Zimmermann is unimpressed with an anti-encryption policy the Conservative Party plans to write into its manifesto for the forthcoming UK general election.

"It’s absurd," Zimmermann told The Guardian. "We fought the crypto wars in the 1990s, and that matter has been settled. End-to-end encryption is everywhere now: in browsers, online banking. If you have strong encryption between your web browser and your bank, you can’t have a man in the middle from the government wiretapping that."

The FBI and intel agencies such as MI5 have been vocal in complaining that strong encryption technologies are paving the path toward a dark web where they will no longer be able to intercept terrorists' communications.

Zimmermann said ubiquitous CCTV cameras and other technologies mean that spy agencies are enjoying a "golden age of surveillance" comparable with the world as depicted by TV show Person of Interest.

"They can see everything: they’ve got face recognition algorithms looking through cameras on the streets, optical recognition cameras at bridges, tunnels and traffic lights," Zimmermann said. "They can track movements, transactions, who’s having lunch with whom, who’s sleeping with whom. They can see everything!"

"To complain that end-to-end encryption is crippling them, well, it's like having a couple of missing pixels in a large display. They have the rest of the display! They’ve never had it so good. They didn’t have this stuff 20 years ago," he added.

Cameron's anti-encryption policies would reduce the UK to the level of Colombia 10 years ago, when not even banks were allowed to use encryption, said Zimmermann, who addressed Colombian lawmakers debating the introduction of encryption at the time.

"Not even banks! And the banks were getting robbed by hackers (accounts were getting cleaned out) because people like David Cameron who don’t like encryption said nobody could use it," he added.

Rather than being fearful of encryption the government should be encouraging enterprises to adopt it in order to safeguard privacy in cases where corporate system are breached.

Zimmermann hopes that more enterprises will take lessons from the Sony Pictures megahack and use it as a spur to kick ahead with encryption projects, an idea he explores in greater depth in a post on Silent Circle's blog. ®

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