Phil Zimmermann’s post-PGP project: privacy for a price

June 14, 2012 | Source: CNET

Credit: Silent Circle

Phil Zimmermann released PGP for free, but he’s planning to charge about $20 a month for his new Silent Circle encryption service.

Zimmermann’s new company, Silent Circle, plans to release a beta version of an iPhone and Android app in late July that encrypts phone calls and other communications. A final version is scheduled to follow in late September.

Zimmermann is offering a set of services designed from the start to be simple to use: encrypted e-mail, encrypted phone calls, and encrypted instant messaging. (Encrypted SMS text messages are eventually planned too.)

“We’re going after target markets that have a special need for this,” Zimmermann said. “For example, U.S. military serving overseas that wish to speak to their families.”

Law enforcement, which warns that tech advances have made it far more difficult to wiretap Americans suspected of illegal activities, is unlikely to applaud Zimmermann’s new venture. As CNET reported last month, the FBI has drafted a proposed law that would require providers of VoIP, instant messaging, and Web e-mail to alter their code to ensure their products are wiretap-friendly by building in backdoors for government surveillance.

The FBI’s proposal would amend a 1994 law, called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) that currently applies only to telecommunications providers, not Web or peer-to-peer VoIP companies. The Federal Communications Commission extended CALEA in 2004 to sweep in broadband networks and VoIP providers such as Vonage (which uses the telephone network) but not Skype-to-Skype calls (which are peer-to-peer).

Depending on the final wording, the legislation could target Silent Circle — meaning that, 21 years after he released PGP, Phil Zimmermann has not lost his knack for vexing the U.S. government.