A Crypto Anarchist’s Legacy
Airfoil Dec 20, 2018
Sadly, this past week we lost an icon that helped to spur the cypherpunk movement. Timothy May, who wrote The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto in 1988, lauched a movement that is still very prominent today.
For the uninitiated, a Crypto-Anarchist focuses on subverting the current laws and using new technologies to the benefit of the common man.
In the original manifesto, May says crypto-anarchy focuses on “encryption, digital money, anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero-knowledge, reputations, information markets, black markets, collapse of governments”.
The manifesto was written just before the first crypto wars began during the early 1990’s.
The governments of the world fiercely opposed the general public using cryptographic encryption protocols.
The idea that a normal citizen could completely hide what they say in an electronic message was their biggest concern.
The governments cited national security as a concern (We’ve heard this excuse used many times before).
Tim May was embroiled in the center of this alongside his group of fellow cypherpunks.
The legislation of the anti-encryption laws would also affect payment processing technology. There was a large push back from tech companies that would have to deal with these issues first-hand.
The crypto wars of the 1990’s ended with the concession from the government that encryption was readily available around the world.
The public had won their first bout against the government surveillance state. Alongside the public, you had the cypherpunks and large tech companies that were all fighting a common threat.
There was not much of an issue in terms of encryption for quite a few more years.
Every few years afterward, the idea of backdoors into encryption schemes were brought up but nothing ever came about these new ideations.
The Crypto Wars Redux
The expansion of computational power and development of more efficient processing equipment closed the gap as to who can gain access to encryption software.
The widespread availabilty of software/hardware that can perform these cryptographic calculations involved in encryption and the ease of use has made it possible for the layman to encrypt their own personal messages, video calls,emails, and notes.
Encrypting an email with someone who has never imported a key to their keyring, or generated their own PGP public/private key pair is a thing of the past.
Many of the services that exist today offer these solutions out of the box. The process has become much easier for all parties involved.
Anyone that is now using this technology benefits from this on a privacy and security level.
With all parties benefitting, the leviathan rears its head once more. Australia has passed an anti-encryption bill that will force large tech companies to allow the Australian government to obtain hardware access(citing national security as a major reason).
Outrage has spilled out of the larger tech companies. The end-to-end zero knowledge messaging/calling app, Signal, has taken a stand against this bill.
This sounds very similar to the issues Tim May was battling with during the early days of the First Crypto War.
The cypherpunks came out on top and I’m sure this legislation will face a similar fate.
May’s Impact on the World
The imprint that Timothy May left on the world is profound. The mass adoption of encryption as well as cryptocurrencies shows just how far ahead of the times he was.
May urged the importance of privacy.
He insisted on the use of encryption to keep your communications private.
Currently on a majority of mobile phones there are applications that provide encrypted communications. Whatsapp uses the Signal protocol which was developed by cypherpunk Moxie Marlinspike.
The rise of cryptocurrencies is an ideal that May was very hopeful for.
May did come out against the anti-privacy issues of bitcoin.
There are projects that offer solutions for this privacy debate.
Much of the developer-base of these certain cryptocurrencies have their foundation based in the cypherpunk tradition.
The Cryptocurrencies that aim for a privacy by default mechanism are monero and the soon to launch GRIN which uses the Mimblewimble Protocol (To see an extremely entertaining introduction to the GRIN project via talk-to-text chat for privacy preservation, listen to the creator of Grin).
Zcash is moving in the direction of private by default and the superior cryptography of the ZK range proofs will help to create a very private cryptocurrency.
The impact Tim May made on the world by helping to create a social movement shows the importance and strength of his ideals.
He has impacted a generation of people that are growing up in the digital age.
He influenced builders in the 21st century.
You have people creating new currencies, exposing government surveillance on a national scale, circumventing the broken bueracratic system by creating their own markets, anonymous internet protocols, as well as making encryption applicable to the common man (You can find a list of prominent cypherpunks here and also here).
There isn’t enough that can be said about the applications in which he believed could positively affect us.
May was cognizant of the encroaching all-seeing eye of the state but I believe we are in much better shape now than we’ve ever been.
There may be negative news about what we currently face as individuals, from the unprecedented surveillance of the Snowden leaks to the aforementioned Australian anti-encryption bill, but looking at the grand scheme of our daily lives, these tools and their functions have helped to create a much better day than May could have imagined in 1988.
He was a proponent for the industriousness of human nature to outpace the slow moving regulation that would try to bog down any progress.
You can listen here to what he thought people/creators should do when they develop ground breaking technology.
Arise, you have nothing to lose but your barbed wire fences!
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