Shamir, a Turing Award winner and a globally renowned cryptographer, sent a brief video to the conference to explain his absence. It was played during the Cryptographers' Panel, a feature at every RSAC, in which he could not participate this year.
Israel is not on the list of countries which are part of the US visa waiver program, so Shamir would have had to go through the regular process for a tourist visa renewal, which looks to be quite onerous. Having gone through the process to obtain a journalist's visa for the US once, this writer can testify that the US system is not the most efficient in the world.
India, which is generally described as chaotic and disorderly, provides a tourist visa within 24 hours after an online application. Germany (when I applied in the UAE as the holder of an Indian passport) is very efficient. In the case of many other countries, a visitor who intends to stay for a short period is given a visa on arrival. All this is based on this writer's personal experiences.
The reason for his travel was to share information at a technical conference – and the US claims to be a country that is proud of its technology and research industries.
The Cryptographers' Panel at RSAC 2019. Shamir's message starts at about the eight-minute mark.
But in recent times, a number of scientists and researchers have been blocked from entering the US. Another member of the Cryptographers' Panel, Shafi Goldwasser, director of the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing, told the conference that Shamir was not the only one who had been unable to obtain a visa in order to attend RSAC.
She said his case stood out because of his prominence in the field of cryptography, but there were others, some even from the same institute where Shamir works, who had been unable to secure US visas to attend the conference.
Encryption has become something of a dirty word in the West these days. Cryptography experts appear to be regarded with suspicion and spies from various countries, the Five Eyes nations prominent among them, want to know what everybody else is communicating - and raise the eternal bogeys of child abuse and terrorism to justify their demands. This has manifested itself in the shape of draconian laws in both the UK and Australia.
Shamir mentioned during his message that he had intended to share some unpublished findings about the security of AES — the Advanced Encryption Standard, also known by its original name Rijndael, which is a specification for the encryption of electronic data established by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology in 2001 — at the conference.
"... but since the US Government is not allowing me to be there with you, I'll have to break the news at some other time and place," he said.
No country that prevents intellectuals like him from sharing information that could benefit an entire industry can call itself brave and free. Shame on the US of A.