Cypherpunks

Blockchain Disruption, Technology | Pujan Vakharia | March 15, 2019

Cypherpunk :

A cult(ivated) term, originating from…

Cipher : a process of turning messages into secrets, and the sci-fi sub-genre

Cyberpunk : a fiction revolving around a dystopic society impacted by the exploits of mega-corporations and artificial intelligences using rapid technological advances; its conflicts with marginalized characters (hackers) who aimed for righteous radical change in social order.

Prelude

Since World War II, as the communications evolved, the technology around hiding information in plain sight (over the radio, and the Internet) aka encryption has turned relevant. Public-key encryption, heavily picked-up by hackers, mathematicians and cryptographers, solves the problem of the prying eye.

Privacy and Cryptography

As the use of Internet evolved, the easy opportunity of ‘invisible mass surveillance’ by service providers and the likes became a serious concern. Since cryptography was a solution to such concerns, the community developing it was well aware of the consequences before the concerns became relevant to the mainstream users – using the Internet as a utility. The community was feared by the government subverting their cyberspace playground by locking it up through surveillance and censorship.
In the early 90’s a sub-community of the Cypherpunks emerged, initially starting as a mailing list, created by Eric Hughes. By 1994, it had 700 subscribers and active forums discussing mathematics, cryptography, politics and philosophy.

A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto written by Eric, in 1993 reflects the stance of the community on individual freedom over the Internet. Excerpts follow.

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.

We cannot expect governments, corporations, or other large, faceless organizations to grant us privacy out of their beneficence. It is to their advantage to speak of us, and we should expect that they will speak. To try to prevent their speech is to fight against the realities of information.

The Movement

The Cypherpunk Movement. The political and philosophical ideologies of cypherpunk community, fueled by implementable tech-profeciency coalesced the ideas into active projects. The projects that could in fact enforce their ideology in the existing ecosystem of the Internet.

Pretty Good Privacy or PGP for message privacy (by Phil Zimmerman), Tor the ananonymity network – a couple of projects that have been popular beyond the cypherpunk networks – originated from this community.

Present Scenario

A vast community of tech-savvy visionaries with a diverse spectrum of contribution and involvement exists today, aware of, if not endorsing the ideals of cypherpunks.

The general purpose behind their activities goes beyond the community itself. The general notion is that the consequences of censorship and monitoring of Internet affairs affect the mainstream population directly. Yet, the ‘convenience over privacy’ mindset, leads to overshadow such scrutiny. Potential threats become relevant to the mass population only after the occurrence of the mishaps. (The affairs involving Cambridge Analytica; protests for net-neutrality)

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

Related Articles

Close Menu