Remember where you were when the internet was born?
I'll always remember a middle school camping trip my class took back in '92. We were traversing a scary railway bridge when our teacher pointed out thick wires bolted to the support beams below us and said: "Ça c'est le 'Information Superhighway!'"
We were part of a "brain class". A group of students who were singled out, grouped together in a special class, and commonly referred to as "Les Nerds". I had one friend in that class who was an uber-nerd named Jeffrey B., and I was pretty sure he knew everything about computers.
|No offense to Jeffrey B., but he was one of these kinds of guys|
He showed me something called the Flipside BBS (short for bulletin board system). Since my Mom worked in a computer lab I was lucky enough to sometimes have a PC and 1,200 baud rate modem at home to mess around with. Jeffrey had a trustworthiness rank of 7 on that board, as a newb I started off with a rank of 1. If I wanted a rank like Jeffrey's I saw only two options: play countless rounds of the text-based Bart Simpson game, or brown-nose the sysop (:
I suppose we were dialing into a public intranet, so this was actually an earlier expression of the same world-reshaping technology of the internet.
Something else was happening in the early 1990s. The cypherpunks, hackers, and geeks who had been toiling away in the shadows for 15 or 20 years were now rising to the forefront of popular culture. There were frequent high profile hacking stories, and an explosion of ideas being floated with regard to concerns over a post-web world.
Today, many of the biggest debates pertaining to the state of the web (and the world) are about privacy. I've realized recently that many of today's legal and practical concerns in this space were foreshadowed and discussed at length as far back as the late 1980s. (see the bottom of this page for a short list of issues)
Below is a short note plus a transcript of a fascinating tidbit of web history called The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto by Tim May (author of THE CYPHERNOMICON). In 1992 he laid down this hopeful outline for the future of the web and crypto anarchy. Two decades later in the real world, we're seeing an increasingly vivid representation of this world theorized by early hackers and cultural revolutionaries.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Timothy C. May)
Subject: The Crypto Anarchist ManifestoDate: Sun, 22 Nov 92 12:11:24 PST
Cypherpunks of the World,
Several of you at the "physical Cypherpunks" gathering yesterday in Silicon Valley requested that more of the material passed out in meetings be available electronically to the entire readership of the Cypherpunks list, spooks, eavesdroppers, and all.
Here's the "Crypto Anarchist Manifesto" I read at the September 1992 founding meeting. It dates back to mid-1988 and was distributed to some like-minded techno-anarchists at the "Crypto '88" conference and then again at the "Hackers Conference" that year. I later gave talks at Hackers on this in 1989 and 1990.
There are a few things I'd change, but for historical reasons I'll just leave it as is. Some of the terms may be unfamiliar to you...I hope the Crypto Glossary I just distributed will help.
(This should explain all those cryptic terms in my .signature!)
The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto
A specter is haunting the modern world, the specter of crypto anarchy.
Computer technology is on the verge of providing the ability for individuals and groups to communicate and interact with each other in a totally anonymous manner. Two persons may exchange messages, conduct business, and negotiate electronic contracts without ever knowing the True Name, or legal identity, of the other. Interactions over networks will be untraceable, via extensive re- routing of encrypted packets and tamper-proof boxes which implement cryptographic protocols with nearly perfect assurance against any tampering. Reputations will be of central importance, far more important in dealings than even the credit ratings of today. These developments will alter completely the nature of government regulation, the ability to tax and control economic interactions, the ability to keep information secret, and will even alter the nature of trust and reputation.
The technology for this revolution--and it surely will be both a social and economic revolution--has existed in theory for the past decade. The methods are based upon public-key encryption, zero-knowledge interactive proof systems, and various software protocols for interaction, authentication, and verification. The focus has until now been on academic conferences in Europe and the U.S., conferences monitored closely by the National Security Agency. But only recently have computer networks and personal computers attained sufficient speed to make the ideas practically realizable. And the next ten years will bring enough additional speed to make the ideas economically feasible and essentially unstoppable. High-speed networks, ISDN, tamper-proof boxes, smart cards, satellites, Ku-band transmitters, multi-MIPS personal computers, and encryption chips now under development will be some of the enabling technologies.
The State will of course try to slow or halt the spread of this technology, citing national security concerns, use of the technology by drug dealers and tax evaders, and fears of societal disintegration. Many of these concerns will be valid; crypto anarchy will allow national secrets to be trade freely and will allow illicit and stolen materials to be traded. An anonymous computerized market will even make possible abhorrent markets for assassinations and extortion. Various criminal and foreign elements will be active users of CryptoNet. But this will not halt the spread of crypto anarchy.
Just as the technology of printing altered and reduced the power of medieval guilds and the social power structure, so too will cryptologic methods fundamentally alter the nature of corporations and of government interference in economic transactions. Combined with emerging information markets, crypto anarchy will create a liquid market for any and all material which can be put into words and pictures. And just as a seemingly minor invention like barbed wire made possible the fencing-off of vast ranches and farms, thus altering forever the concepts of land and property rights in the frontier West, so too will the seemingly minor discovery out of an arcane branch of mathematics come to be the wire clippers which dismantle the barbed wire around intellectual property.
Arise, you have nothing to lose but your barbed wire fences!
--..........................................................................Timothy C. May | Crypto Anarchy: encryption, digital money,408-688-5409 | knowledge, reputations, information markets,email@example.com | anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero W.A.S.T.E.: Aptos, CA | black markets, collapse of governments.Higher Power: 2^756839 | PGP Public Key: by arrangement.
Modern topics and events demonstrating a clash between deprecating laws of the state and the natural flow of information, innovation, and biology include: P2P / copyright law, Bradley Manning, Aaron Swartz, censorship, Facebook, the dark internet, Assange / Wikileaks, Pirate Party, Bitcoin, GMO patents, to name just a few...