The Search for Satoshi Nakamoto: Chapter VIII. - Phil Zimmermann

Starring in todays episode is a pioneer in cryptography, who received multiple awards for his work. His name is Phil Zimmermann.


Who Is It?

Phil Zimmermann is American programmer. In 1978 he obtained bachelor’s degree in the field of information technologies from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida. He later moved from Florida to San Francisco and became an employee. Then he started to work for PGP Corporation.

Why Is He a Suspect?

What points to this person, are mainly his merits. While working for PGP corporation, where coincidentally also worked Hal Finney, Phil wrote an encryption program called Pretty Good Privacy. This program soon became a standard in the field of encryption of electronic communication based on RSA algorithm and it was the first program available, which could implement asymmetric cryptography, which is what cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin are based on. Phil thought, that this tool should be available to public, so he published it along with its source code on public FTP server, where it was free to download.

After a very short time, thanks to the internet, the program became available even outside the USA. Zimmermann claimed, that he had nothing to do with this public distribution. Because the value of cryptographic software was already known in that time, USA considered encryption programs a military device and started a criminal investigation against Zimmermann, for alleged violation of Arms Export Control Act of import and export control of military arsenal, ammunition and other means. The rules of this act were then set in a way, that suggested that PGP software fell into “inadmissible for export from USA” category.

This line has since been moved, so now PGP is permitted to export. Zimmermann is one of the suspects of hiding behind the Satoshi Nakamoto pseudonym mainly because of his abilities in the field of cryptography, specifically asymmetric encryption. During his work for the same company as Hal Finney, who has undoubtedly been connected to the real Satoshi Nakamoto, they both could participate in something bigger, that could serve the good of the people. Phil apparently wanted rather to bring something useful to society, than to enrich himself. In the field of computer technology, one of his quotes called “Zimmermann law” got popular. It goes like this:

“The natural flow of technology tends to move in the direction of making surveillance easier.”

to which he added:

The ability of computers to track us doubles every eighteen months.“

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