In the 1970s, civilian researchers at places like IBM, Stanford and MIT were developing encryption to ensure that digital data sent between businesses, academics and private citizens couldn't be intercepted and understood by a third party. This concerned folks in the U.S. intelligence community who didn't want to get locked out of potentially eavesdropping on anyone, regardless of their preferred communications method. Despite their most valiant efforts, agencies like the NSA ultimately lost out to commercial interests. But it wasn't for lack of trying.
As we looked at yesterday, the people who developed the government-funded ARPANET (the precursor to our modern internet) saw it as a tool that would perhaps one day enable a fantastic array of uses in the private sector. From online banking to having an entire library at your fingertips, the futuristic thinkers who built the internet knew that they were truly changing the world. But if anyone was going to have confidence in this technology — whether it was banks looking to send money halfway around the world, or private citizens reading a controversial book — there needed to be a reasonable expectation of privacy and security. Enter the encryption researchers of the 1970s.