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Phil Zimmermann: Email Privacy & PGP

Phil Zimmermann is the inventor of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), the world's most widely used software for encrypting email messages to help safeguard privacy rights. He has a long background in computing, achieving his degree in computer science from Florida Atlantic University in the USA in 1978. During the 1980s he worked as a software engineer, and alongside this he was a military policy analyst with the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, based in Colorado, USA.

In 1984, during the Reagan-Brezhnev era, Phil began to see the need for what would later become PGP. Working in the peace movement, he saw its use as a tool for protecting human rights overseas and also political activist organisations domestically. Since PGP has become available, it has gone on to fulfil both these early visions.

It was not until years later, however, that time became available to work on PGP. The landmark year was 1991, when the software was first published, for free, on the internet. The publication took place in June: Zimmermann sent the first release of PGP to some friends, who then uploaded it to the internet on either the 5th or the 6th of June.

Subsequently, he was targeted for criminal investigation; the USA government considered that export restrictions for cryptographic software were violated when PGP was spread worldwide via the Usenet newsgroup system, despite the fact that Phil thought he had only released copies within the USA. This difficult and unfortunate time lasted for three years, and ended when the USA government informed Phil's head legal representative on 11th January 1996 that it was dropping its case.

Phil then formed a company to continue to develop PGP. That company was acquired by Network Associates Inc in December 1997, and from then on Zimmermann worked as a Senior Fellow in the organisation. In August 2002 PGP was bought from Network Associates by PGP Corporation, and Phil became a special advisor and consultant to the company.

PGP's birth chart

Below is the chart for the publication of PGP. Because of the doubt about the date and time, and the fact that there was no single specific location, this chart has been set for midnight on the morning of 6th June 1991. We therefore need to treat the position of the Moon with caution, as well as the aspects of Mercury and the Sun.

PGP Birth chart

In the early to mid 1990s the planets Uranus and Neptune conjoined in Capricorn. This was an epoch-making event, and it happens only once every 172 years. Not only did the invention of PGP coincide with this 1990s conjunction, but so did the massive rise in popularity of the internet itself. Linking this Uranus-Neptune combination with a much shorter-term development was the planet Jupiter.

At the time of the first release of PGP to the internet, Uranus was in septile aspect to Jupiter. This is important because these are the two planets associated with human rights and freedoms, those central issues of civil society that PGP sought to assist. The septile aspect is one of inspiration, and so these human rights issues were 'in the air' at this time in a form that people could get enthused about. Thus the time was ripe for people to plug into freedom and rights in a strongly engaging way.

The septile aspect occurred only twice in 1991. The first occasion was 6th February, when the aspect was in orb from 23rd January to 19th February.
The second occasion was from 19th May to 10th June, with the day of exactitude being 30th May.

Highlights of Phil Zimmermann's chart

Cryptography was a subject that Phil Zimmermann became interested in at the age of just ten, when he read a book on the topic named 'Codes and Secret Writing' by Herbert S. Zim.  From around the age of nine to eleven, Pluto was transiting opposite Phil's Mercury then square his. Both Mercury and Jupiter are the planets of messages, languages and symbols, where one things stands for, means, or represents another. Pluto is the planet of things which are hidden, invisible, unseen, or not obvious, so here we have an indicator of 'coded messages'.

In a birth chart, the aspects to the Sun show the central themes of a person's life and identity. In Phil's chart, the Sun is opposite Pluto. This is very interesting, because the Sun is a symbol of what is most visible, whereas Pluto is linked with that which is least visible. To connect the two in a natal chart shows that the person is dealing with how these two ideas interact in life. The fact that the aspect is an opposition indicates that Phil is trying to achieve a balance between the two, rather than swinging to one extreme or another.

The signs Aquarius and Gemini are both linked with computer science, data, information, and networks. They are people-oriented signs, having to do with communication. Phil has four planets in these signs, including the all-important Sun and Moon which correspond to a person's core identity and life themes. The other planets are Jupiter, the planet of symbolism and meaning, and Venus, the planet of fairness, and relationship.

Phil's transits at the launch of PGP

In astrology the planet most specifically associated with computers and computing is Uranus. In Phil's chart Uranus is at 19 degrees 47 minutes of the sign Cancer.

At the time of the first release of PGP we therefore have the following major transits to Phil's chart:
  • Pluto trine Phil's Uranus
  • North node opposite Phil's Uranus/South node conjunct Phil's Uranus
These two transits show that something powerful changes were due to take place at this time. Pluto and Uranus are revolutionary in nature; the past is completely swept away, and a brand new era begins. Transits of the node are about a person's development and growth through life. They show times when a person's growth is stimulated in the area related to the planet they aspect, which in this case is Uranus, the planet of computing and networks.

Another two important transits at this time were:
  • Uranus septile Phil's Jupiter
  • Sun conjunct Phil's Jupiter
The septile between Uranus and Jupiter shows a quality of inspiration and a 'lightning flash' of networking taking place. This is an aspect of invention, breakthrough, and surprise. The transit of the Sun shows that on the day of publication, the planet of publishing, symbols, and meaning was directly highlighted in Phil's chart. Solar transits enliven, make visible, and emphasise, so it is entirely appropriate that it was on this day that PGP went into the public domain.

For more information on PGP and Phil Zimmermann:
NB These links are to external websites and will open in a new browser window

Phil Zimmermann's official web site:

Where to get PGP

Applying astrology to political life Hutton Inquiry, Tony Blair, Iraq, Israel, European Union, USA,
War on Terror, Uranus in Pisces & Neptune in Aquarius, & more

Applying astrology to business life Euro Currency, NHS, BBC,
USA economy, Ofcom, Concorde,
W Edwards Deming, European Central Bank, Anita Roddick, & more

Applying astrology to people's lives Health, emotional intelligence, zodiac elements, understanding change, Angelina Jolie, Gwen Stefani, Germaine Greer, & more

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