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Feds drop charges in encryption case

Federal prosecutors have dropped all charges against Phil Zimmermann, the creator of the Pretty Good Privacy encryption program. Zimmerman got in trouble when he posted the program on the Net.

Government officials have decided not to pursue the case against encryption guru Phil Zimmermann, the creator of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP).

Zimmermann landed in hot water in June 1991 when he posted the PGP program to Usenet. The government claimed that the posting violated the ban on exporting encryption technology.

In a letter to Zimmermann's lawyers, federal prosecutors said the investigation into the matter is now closed and that no charges will be filed. Zimmermann said he was greatly relieved to hear that the charges have been dropped.

Controversy over control of encryption technology flared up again in 1995 in both the public and private sectors. In the commercial arena, software vendors claimed that the export limit on programs with sophisticated key encryption systems gave foreign competitors an advantage. On behalf of users, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is backing Dan Bernstein's lawsuit against the NSA, State Department, and other agencies. That suit claims that export controls on cryptography software are unconstitutional because they serve as prior restraint on publication.

Copies of the PGP software and PGPFone can be downloaded from the EPIC Web site.