Thoughts on “A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto”, part 5


Privacy in an open society also requires cryptography. If I say something, I want it heard only by those for whom I intend it. If the content of my speech is available to the world, I have no privacy. To encrypt is to indicate the desire for privacy, and to encrypt with weak cryptography is to indicate not too much desire for privacy. Furthermore, to reveal one’s identity with assurance when the default is anonymity requires the cryptographic signature.

I spoke about privacy in my earlier posts, and how it is at the root of what the Cypherpunk movement does.

In order to speak freely, it is imperative that one has the choice to do so without fear of reprisal. In some cases, that means being able to hide your identity, because having your identity known might have severe repercussions for you personally and professionally. Without that choice, many people would be unable to speak out, for fear of their own safety or that of their loved ones.

The internet adds another dimension to this conundrum: while it is now possible for anyone with access to make themselves heard around the world, it is also possible to be harmed on a much larger scale: one cannot go without the other. It is this what the Cypherpunk movement saw years back and what still informs anyone that indentifies as such.

This is not a theoretical issue. At this moment, there is a big discussion about whether companies should build backdoors into their encryption protocols in order to allow governments access to user’s histories. We have government officials at high levels calling for whistleblower’s covers to be blown because what they say is not what they consider to be in the best interest of their countries.

All these calls are made under the banner of fighting enemies, which is understandable. Even when well-intentioned, however, it is a danger to everyone’s privacy: once broken, it cannot be mended again and the choice for privacy goes out the window.

This Manifesto is not about just privacy, but about having the choice for that privacy, and the level at which you want to have it: do you want the whole world to know it is you that ate asparagus? Fine. But if not, then that is also possible. It’s that simple issue that is at the heart of what the Cypherpunk movement concerns itself with.

Bas Wisselink
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