Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

PGP Creator Phil Zimmermann Has a New Venture Called Silent Circle

It has been a long time since anyone thought seriously about the encryption debate that hung over the discussion around privacy rights in the 1990s. It has also been a long time since Phil Zimmermann — creator of the Pretty Good Privacy software that so many people adopted to encrypt their email — was the target of a federal criminal investigation that derived from his making it widely available for download. The government dropped its case in 1996. Today, PGP is the most widely used encryption program in the world. PGP, the company, is part of Symantec, and encrypting your email is now super easy, though most people don’t go to the trouble of doing it.

PGP is the reason Zimmermann is going to be inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame today, at a dinner in Geneva. Which, of course, raises the question: What is he doing these days?

The answer: Launching a new venture. It’s called Silent Circle, for which Zimmermann has teamed up with two former Navy SEALs and one of his PGP Corp. co-founders. The plan is to offer encrypted email, encrypted mobile calls, encrypted VOIP teleconferencing and encrypted instant messaging, all in one place.

Joining Zimmermann in Silent Circle are Mike Janke, a former Navy SEAL sniper, special operations communications expert and privacy advocate; Vic Hyder, another former Navy SEAL and founder of Maritime Security; and Jon Callas, a cryptographer and Zimmermann’s co-founder of PGP Corp., whose current day job is CTO at Entrust.

Silent Circle will offer services both to consumers and corporations, but also to human-rights groups, dissidents and nongovernmental organizations working in dangerous or sketchy places where governments tend to monitor communications. There’s also a promise of no backdoors offered for any individual, organization or government.

Though Silent Circle is now running a private beta, the plan, as I understand it, is to launch a public beta on July 15. We’ll hear more about it then.

Update: I initially spelled Zimmermann’s name with only one N. Sorry about that.


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald