Cypherpunks write code. We know that someone has to write software to defend privacy, and since we can’t get privacy unless we all do, we’re going to write it. We publish our code so that our fellow Cypherpunks may practice and play with it. Our code is free for all to use, worldwide. We don’t much care if you don’t approve of the software we write. We know that software can’t be destroyed and that a widely dispersed system can’t be shut down.
Cypherpunks deplore regulations on cryptography, for encryption is fundamentally a private act. The act of encryption, in fact, removes information from the public realm. Even laws against cryptography reach only so far as a nation’s border and the arm of its violence. Cryptography will ineluctably spread over the whole globe, and with it the anonymous transactions systems that it makes possible.
The core of the Cypherpunk ethos is to put ideology into action and to make code speak.
As such, the Cypherpunk movement regards code as speech, and as speech is free, code should be free.
Just like with speech, Cypherpunks “don’t care if you don’t approve”. The code is out there, regardless of whether anyone likes it or not.
You can take it or leave it, but that will not deter them to write it or not. By the way, that goes for most Open Source software.
The second part, to me, is more interesting and broad: encryption is not a bad thing. As I have explored in previous installments, privacy in the digital age is all but impossible: information wants to spread, and so it will. Quite a lot of people have gotten stung by this characteristic after for instance posting a message on their Facebook pages or other social media of choice. Even if they didn’t think it would spread, others may spread it for them.
Encryption is the opposite of disseminating data openly: it is a voluntary act to limit the spread of what you share. As such, it is akin to closing your door or closing your curtains in real life. It has the same characteristics as hiding what you are typing when you are entering your PIN into an ATM. Encryption allows you to choose whom you share your information with.
It is good to be wary of movements that want to limit the right to curtain off what you share with others, or put differently, that limit your right to conduct private conversations in good faith.
The last part is more prophetic than real at this moment: if anything, encryption and cryptography for the general public is under attack. At this moment, it is very much the question still if it will become a globally accessible good.
Latest posts by Bas Wisselink (see all)
- Thoughts on “A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto”, part 9 - February 20, 2019
- Thoughts on “A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto”, part 8 - January 21, 2019
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