Thoughts on “A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto”, part 3


Since we desire privacy, we must ensure that each party to a transaction have knowledge only of that which is directly necessary for that transaction. Since any information can be spoken of, we must ensure that we reveal as little as possible. In most cases personal identity is not salient. When I purchase a magazine at a store and hand cash to the clerk, there is no need to know who I am. When I ask my electronic mail provider to send and receive messages, my provider need not know to whom I am speaking or what I am saying or what others are saying to me; my provider only need know how to get the message there and how much I owe them in fees. When my identity is revealed by the underlying mechanism of the transaction, I have no privacy. I cannot here selectively reveal myself; I must always reveal myself.

This paragraph deals with a core design principle the Manifest is proposing for any identification mechanism: minimalism.

Since all parties in a transaction know data about each other, it is necessary to keep the amount of data shared to the absolute minimum in order to ensure data cannot be conciously or unconciously shared.

A transaction in this context does not only mean a financial transaction, but it can also be sharing of messages, the sharing of personal details, chatting, sending of pictures, anything. We are constantly leaking data, so in each transaction it is necessary to only leak what is absolutely necessary.

The concept of identity is a complex one, and complicated further because personal identity has become more and more conflated with the methods we have developed to prove identity. The two are not identical. You are not your passport, nor does your sense of Self derive from it. Yet in the public domain, often you are in a very real sense considered identical to the proofs of your identity claims.

If you walk into a post office to pick up a parcel, and you cannot produce the paperwork to back up your claim that you are actually “you”, you will not be able to prove your identity and as far as the post office is concerned, you do not officially exist, even though you evidently walk and breathe.

In the digital space, it is even more complicated, as your identity can be scattered over many accounts with varying parts of you being represented there.

For more reading on this topic, I refer you to the excellent article “The Path to Self-Sovereign Identity” be Christopher Allen.

Suffice it to say that in a digital age, to maintain a level of privacy, and therefore a measure of certainty that your identifying information cannot be misused, it is necessary to minimise the amount of data being shared per transaction.

For instance, when buying liquor online, there is no need to share your name, address, social security number etc. In most cases a proof of age and address and country of residence should be enough.

If you want to report a theft, proof of ownership and proof of theft should be enough.

Our systems are currently not set up in ways to handle requests this way, opening us up to many potential threats of misuse of information.

When you are forced to leak information like this, you cannot choose to share it selectively by yourself anymore.

Therefore, you have effectively no privacy.

Bas Wisselink
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