Moore's law 'is biggest threat to privacy'

Phil Zimmermann, the man who created the PGP encryption product, believes that Moore's Law and surveillance cameras make for a particularly dangerous cocktail

Moore's Law is the biggest threat to privacy today, according to Phil Zimmermann, the man who in the early 90s developed the Pretty Good Privacy encryption product to bring strong encryption to the masses.

Zimmermann, who was in London for the Infosec security conference in London's Olympia, told ZDNet UK that Moore's Law represents a "blind force" that is fuelling an undirected technology escalation. "The human population does not double every 18 months but its ability to use computers to keep track of us does," he said, referring to what he sees as the threat to privacy from the increased use of surveillance cameras. "You can't encrypt your face."

Zimmermann wrote PGP in the early 90s as a response to what many civil rights activists in the US saw as increased interest by the US government in gaining access to email. PGP was the first widely adopted strong encryption programme for protecting files and emails, and it landed Zimmermann in a three-year criminal investigation by the US Customs Service under arms export control laws. The case was eventually dropped.

Today, Zimmerman sees surveillance as the biggest threat to civil liberties and nowhere, he believes, is this more egregious than in the UK. "You have millions of CCTV cameras here. Every citizen is monitored, and this creates pressure to adhere to conformist behaviour. The original purpose of cameras was to catch terrorists, but to my knowledge they haven't caught many terrorists using cameras."

While laws that are brought in during times of a perceived increase in threats to national security, they can be relatively easily repealed, said Zimmermann. "The technology market doesn't work that way. It has more inertia, and is more insidious. When you put computer technology behind surveillance apparatus, the problem gets worse."

And this is where Moore's Law comes in, said Zimmermann, who stressed that he was speaking in a personal capacity not connected with his association with PGP Corp., the company that now owns the rights to the PGP product.

Who's watching you? Get the latest on spy networks such as Echelon and Carnivore, as well as privacy issues for companies and individuals alike, at ZDNet UK's Privacy News Section.

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