PGP is a computer program written for encrypting computer messages putting them into secret code. Encryption, or enciphering, is the altering of data so that it is net usable unless the changes ate undone. In other words, the data is transformed so as to be unreadable to anyone without a secret decryption key, usually a mathematical algorithm. PGP (for pretty good privacy) is so good that it is practically unbreakable; even governments experts can’t crack it. (this is because it uses a two-key method similar to that described earlier for digital signatures.)
Encryption is clearly useful for some organizations, especially those concerned with trade secrets, military matters, and other sensitive data. However, from the standpoint of our society, encryption is a two-edged sword. For instance, police in Sacramento, California, found that PGP blocked them from reading the computer diary of a convicted child molester and finding links to a suspected child pornography ring. Should the government be allowed to read the coded e-mail of its citizens? What about it’s being blocked from surveillance of overseas terrorists, drug dealers, and other enemies?
The issue of encryption came to a head in 1994 with the so-called clipper chip. The Clinton administration supported a proposed voluntary encryption station standard that would make it possible for anyone to keep messages private. The system would make as follows: government agencies and private companies such as vans and credit agencies would use a special microchip the clipper chip in telephones and other equipment. The chip could be used to scramble communications so they could not be read by hackers criminals, and spies.
The new wrinkle, however, was that the clipper would use mathematical formulas developed by the super-secret national security agency and would remain classified. Mathematical keys that unscramble coded data would be kept by two independent government agencies. One suggestion was that these “escrow agencies” might be the national institute of standards and. Technology and the automated systems division of the treasury department. Before proceeding with any eavesdropping, law-enforcement agencies would have to obtain court orders for wiretapping before the “escrow agencies” would grant them access to these keys. In other words, users of the clipper could encrypt all their messages but the government could still open a “trap door” and listen in. many critics objected that because such investigation targets as foreign powers and criminals would use other means or encryption the trap door was not justified. In July 1994, the government backed down from implementing the clipper chip as a data-encryption standard.