Voice encryption software Zfone may attract govt. interest

Phil Zimmerman's latest software will increase security, he says, but US, British administrations may demand access.

Philip Zimmerman, the creator of Pretty Good Privacy, encryption software that met with trouble under encryption export laws in the 1990s, is back in the news with new voice encryption software called Zfone. Released on Wednesday, the new software may draw the attention of a government that fiercely defends its right to listen in. The New York Times reports:

"I'm afraid it will put front and center an issue that had been resolved in the individual's favor in the 1990s," said James X. Dempsey, policy director for the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington-based public policy group.

The Federal Communications Commission has begun adopting regulations that would force Internet service providers and VoIP companies to adopt the technology that permits law enforcement officials to monitor conventional telephone calls. But for now, at least, FCC regulation exempts programs that operate directly between computers, not through a hub.

"From the FCC's perspective you can't regulate point-to-point communications, which I think will let Phil off the hook," said Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, an advocacy group in Washington.

In Europe, government regulation may be even stronger. The British government is preparing to give the police the legal authority to compel both organizations and individuals to disclose encryption keys.

Zimmerman's software is a breakthrough because "it performs the key exchange inside the digital voice channel while the call is being set up, so no third party has the keys," the Times reports.

immermann contends that the nation is better off with strong cryptography. Indeed, Zfone can be considered an asset, he said, because it allows people to have secret conversations without hiding their Internet protocol addresses, which could be traceable geographically. Those observed having a secured conversation could come under suspicion, of course. But for that reason, he argued, sophisticated criminals or terrorists are unlikely to use the technology.

"I'm sympathetic to the needs of the intelligence community to catch the bad guys," he said. "I specifically protect the content the criminals want, while simultaneously not interfering with the traffic analysis that the NSA is trying to do. You could make the case that I'm being socially responsible."

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