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The Roots of Encryption: Scientists Censored, But Not Silenced

Marconi Encryption

By Paula Reinman

Anyone following the news knows about the ongoing conflict between government, the private sector and academia over the use of encryption technology. But did you know that the differences were in full swing forty years ago? That’s when Marconi Fellows Marty Hellman and Whit Diffie, winners of the 2016 Turing Award, were threatened with an NSA lawsuit if they presented their work on cryptography at the International Symposium on Information Theory in October 1977. The NSA decided that presenting the break-through research was the equivalent of “the export of weapons to other countries.” Stanford’s lawyer begged to differ, and Hellman presented the paper. Diffie, always the rebel, even came up with another paper specifically designed to thumb his nose at the government’s claims.

Hellman and Diffie are featured in the June edition of ACM magazine, Communications of the ACM. This is an excellent article about their work in encryption and the problems still to be solved.

The encryption debate will be the topic of a special invitation-only Marconi Society program on September 28th at Stanford, honoring Hellman and Diffie, and featuring some of the top experts in the field. Afterwards, the duo will be toasted at a dinner at the Stanford Faculty Club.

You can read the ACM article here