Martin Hellman, Stanford Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering, was one of those awarded this year’s Turing Award by the Association for Computing Machinery. Named for computer science pioneer Alan Turing, the award is widely regarded as the highest distinction in Computer Science.
Hellman and then-Stanford researcher Whitfield Diffie won the award for their fundamental contributions to modern cryptography. The two introduced the ideas of public-key cryptography and digital signatures, which laid the basis for most security protocols used on the Internet today.
The two are integral contributors to the debate on computer and Internet privacy, and were at the forefront of what are now referred to as the first “crypto wars.” The two fought the NSA and other government agencies for the right to publish and disseminate their work to the broader public, instead of the small community of government users who wanted to keep encryption a closely guarded secret.
We spoke to Professor Hellman at his home on Stanford University’s campus, discussing the work that led to the award, his fight for computer privacy and the current legal feud between Apple Computer and the Federal Bureau of Investigation over backdoors into the iOS mobile operating system.