Encryption innovator leaves US over surveillance

The creator of a widely used email encryption service is leaving the United States over concerns about mass surveillance.

Philip Zimmermann recently moved his encryption start-up firm, Silent Circle, to Switzerland just as the company prepares to release its second generation encrypted phone.


“Every dystopian society has excessive surveillance, but now we see even western democracies like the U.S. and England moving that way,” Zimmermann told The Guardian.

“We have to roll this back. People who are not suspected of committing crimes should not have information collected and stored in a database. We don’t want to become like North Korea,” he said.

Zimmermann, 61, released Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) online in 1991 after several years campaigning against nuclear disarmament. His company is behind the Blackphone, an increasingly popular encrypted handset.

The choice to move Silent Circle to Geneva was prompted by the shuttering of privacy-oriented email client Lavabit. The service closed its doors after a court ordered it to install surveillance equipment.

Silent Circle responded by shutting down its email tool and wiping its database clean.

Zimmermann warned that mass data collection by companies such as Google and Facebook is the next major threat to privacy.

“If you collect all that data, it becomes an attractive nuisance,” he said. “It’s kind of a siren calling out inviting someone to come and try to get it. Governments say that if private industry can have it, why can’t our intelligence agencies have it?”