Privacy Cypherpunk is a generic term used to describe someone who aligns with and advocates the political view that individuals should be able to operate with maximum privacy and security in today’s digital world, through the use of cryptography. This view and the cypherpunk movement has existed since the 1980s and its main tenets are:
- Communication privacy
- Anonymity and pseudonyms
- The opposition to censorship and monitoring
- Hiding the act of hiding
What is a cypherpunk?
So… what is a cypherpunk? Cypherpunks ascertain that privacy is not secrecy and that everyone has a right to privacy. Cypherpunks are “coders” with backgrounds in computer sciences (either formal or self-taught) who actively participate in anonymous online communities to discuss and develop various methods to protect peoples’ privacy. Governments and regulators tend to want to know information on their citizens, for purposes such as population statistics, the collection of taxes, social security, etc. Additionally, large corporations wish to know as much information about their customers as possible for market research purposes to either develop products that better suit our wants and needs or to better sell us things that we do not want or need.
Below is a quote from “A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto”
“Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age. Privacy is not secrecy. A private matter is something one doesn’t want the whole world to know, but a secret is something one doesn’t want anybody to know. Privacy is the power to selectively reveal oneself to the world.“
Since the cypherpunk objectives tend to clash with those of the government, regulators and large corporations they can often be misconstrued as disobedient, anarchist, or unlawful. However, their efforts are not unlawful, nor anarchist; they simply work to protect privacy. Moreover, I view them in the opposite light… they are almost like a modern coder-Batman, a group of privacy-vigilantes who undertake the effort of developing software that will ultimately protect individuals.
Cypherpunks write code, and they publish their code online for all to see and collaborate. Other cypherpunks may find flaws in someone’s code and fix it or point it out to the creator to fix, or use someone else’s code as a starting block to build their privacy project on top of. Its basically like putting a school paper online for others to edit. And if its good enough others can use it. The way I see it these individuals put a lot of effort into developing privacy software for free… they are working for the common good. They are like unsung heroes of privacy.
Electronic, private cash and the origins of Bitcoin
Previously, paper cash used to be the primary method of anonymous transaction. However, in today’s world the vast majority of transactions are not via cash, but rather via debit cards, credit cards, mobile payments (Apple Pay, Android Pay), bank transfers, etc which record and associate your identity, credit score and transaction history (including dollar amount, location, time and merchant).
For decades one of the goals of the cypherpunk movement was to develop a form of private or anonymous electronic cash. The general goal/direction was to develop a protocol that would allow people to transact without having to trust the other party and without having a third party intermediary. Today the reason credit cards and banking work is not because of KYC (know your customer). Credit card companies, banks, Paypal, Amazon, Apple, Android, eBay – they all have your personal information such as birthdate, Social Security (or social insurance) number, address, some form of photo ID, etc. Then once you have divulged your personal information you are permitted to participate in commerce. However, if and when you do something wrong, say an illegal transaction, they know who did it and who to go after. Sounds well-intentioned enough. Although this is a breach of the cardinal rule of cypherpunks. In today’s Internet Age we need the ability to transact in a digital cash to offer anonymity if so desired.
There were multiple iterations of failed attempts before Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin was developed.
“What we need is an electronic payment system based on cryptographic proof instead of trust.” (Satoshi Nakamoto) – The Age of Cryptocurrency, Vigna & Casey
Back in 2008, at the end of October, Satoshi Nakamoto had released his “Bitcoin White Paper” to a mailing list of several hundred members of cryptography experts. In this small community the bitcoin protocol/software was discussed. It was scrutinized and criticized… and incubated. Over the course of the next decade, Bitcoin grew out of obscurity and today is challenging the stability of national fiat currencies, is questioning the integrity of the banking system, it has shaken up Wall Street causing hundreds of old-school bankers/investors to ‘defect’ to the new cryptocurrency world, and is promising to lift billions of the unbanked out of poverty.
All thanks to Cypherpunks.