Israeli Encryption Expert Fails to Get U.S. Visa to Attend Conference That Bears His Name

Adi Shamir is considered one of the world's leading professionals in information security; it's unclear whether U.S. policy or recent shutdown affected his visa's status

File photo: Adi Shamir.
Erik Tews / Wikipedia

An Israeli professor, considered one of the world's leading experts on encryption and information security, had to miss a cybersecurity conference in San Francisco dedicated to a cryptosystem invented by him, because he was unable to get a visa to enter the United States.

According to the CNET technology website, Weizmann Institute professor Adi Shamir suggested the time may have come to rethink where such conferences are held.

In the 1970s, along with Ron Rivest and Leonard Adleman, Shamir invented the RSA cryptosystem in that bears the initials of the trio. In the 1980s, the three founded the RSA information security firm, which was later acquired by EMC and is now owned by Dell Technologies.

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According to media reports, Shamir had been scheduled to speak at a panel session on encryption at the San Francisco event, which runs through Friday, but instead sent a video in which he said he had been unable to obtain a tourist visa to enter the United States even though he had applied for it two months ago. Shamir reportedly said that he never received any kind of response to his visa request.

It is unclear if Shamir’s failure to obtain a visa in time is related to the current U.S. administration's more stringent immigration policies or whether perhaps it was caused by the recent federal government shutdown. CNET reported that the U.S. State Department declined to comment and that Shamir himself "did not respond to a request to comment."

One conference participant, Laura K. Bate, tweeted: "Wow. Adi Shamir (the “S” in RSA) sent a video to #RSAC [the RSA conference] because he couldn’t get a visa. He suggests hosting large conferences elsewhere. The first several minutes of the cryptographers’ panel then discussed US immigration policy. Policy has real consequences."

Shamir’s co-inventor Ron Rivest, who did attend the panel session, expressed anger over the incident. He said that he would send a letter of protest to members of Congress and called on other conference participants to do the same.

For its part, the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem said that it does not comment on visa issues involving private individuals.