Pretty good hellraisin’

Philip Zimmermann, our February 1994 Hellraiser, is rushing to finish what he tentatively calls Voice PGP, named after his uncrackable computer encryption program, Pretty Good Privacy. His new creation turns a personal computer into a secure telephone–much to the consternation of the feds.

Voice PGP uses a computer and high-speed modem to compress and encrypt the caller’s voice before transmitting it onto ordinary phone lines. Only the called party can decode what the user is saying, in real time. Why Zimmermann’s hurry? “We have a window of opportunity to fill this technology niche before the government acts,” he says. Otherwise, once U.S. intelligence gets its hands on telephone surveillance technology, “it will be like putting a sticker on every phone that says, ‘J. Edgar Hoover inside.'”

Zimmermann and other cypherpunks are already disturbed by the government’s decision to install the Clipper chip (an encryption device whose passwords are known to both the user and the feds) in computer communications software. His aim is to get Voice PGP out there (for free, like PGP) and widely in use by the end of the year.