Prime Factors Blog

Blackphone – the Spiritual Successor of PGP

Posted by Jeff Cherrington on May 19, 2014 12:00:00 PM

Finding a balance between individuals’ social participation and preserving privacy is something each individual must consider, at least in a free society. It is easy to keep a secret simply by telling no one, but the need to engage with others on sensitive matters, trivial or vital, by electronic exchange is nearly unavoidable for many. The need to protect some of these exchanges has become a more immediate and critical issue in the last two decades, with the advent of persuasively connected systems, consumer electronics, email and cell phones. Today, we owe debts to those who first began applying technology to protect individual privacy and continue to do so today, such as Phil Zimmerman, the originator of PGP and now bringing the “spy-proof” Blackphone to market.

If you haven’t heard of Phil Zimmerman, you likely will soon, as he is [again] introducing new technology focused on the privacy of communications between individuals. He staked an important place for protection of communications of private citizens when he first developed PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) to protect the contents of email exchanges. He keeps a copy of a statement included in the first PGP User’s Guide from 1991 on his web site that frames his philosophy and gives an interesting insight into his thinking on these matters.

At that time, the government categorized encryption technology as a “munition” in terms of export regulation, as they still do (to a material degree) today. Zimmerman’s PGP ‘found its way’ outside the US, leading to years’ long criminal investigations and disruptive intrusions. While in the end no charges were filed, Zimmerman’s defense of his position defended the right of private individuals to apply strong encryption for their private communications. 

After leaving PGP (by then acquired by Network Associates, Inc.), Zimmerman continued to work in data security and now is bringing a new mobile phone to market that will do for voice and text communications, securing the content from sender to receiver, regardless of the carrier. As voice calls and texting are replacing the email as the dominate forms of electronic communications between individuals, Blackphone is, in many ways, the spiritual successor to PGP. They go on sale next month – see the company website for more information.