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Home > Personal > Clippings > Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet

Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet

I've been uplinked and downloaded. I've been inputted and outsourced. I know the upside of downsizing; I know the downside of upgrading. I'm a high-tech lowlife. A cutting-edge, state-of-the-art, bicoastal multi-tasker, and I can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond . . .

“privacy for the weak, transparency for the powerful.”

“So, what is the focus of secrecy?” They told me, “Well, it’s about slowing down processes in order to better control them.” That’s the core of this kind of intelligence work, to slow down a process by taking away the ability of people to understand it.

JULIAN: But those are excuses—the mafia and foreign intelligence—they are excuses that people will accept to erect such a system. JACOB: The Four Horsemen of the Info-pocalypse: child pornography, terrorism, money laundering, and The War on Some Drugs.

Facebook makes its business by blurring this line between privacy, friends, and publicity.

“The printing press taught the people how to read; the internet taught the people how to write.”

Creating an electronic currency is a big deal precisely because control over the medium of exchange is one of the three ingredients of a state.

So, for example, with the extraordinary financial blockade against WikiLeaks, it’s not the free market that has decided to blockade WikiLeaks, because it’s not a free market— government regulation has made particular financial players kings and doesn’t allow other market entrants.

There is a reason why the person that created another electronic currency, Bitcoin, did so anonymously. You do not want to be the person that invents the first really successful electronic currency.

JULIAN (playing the Devil's advocate): Those industries that are productive, that produce wealth for the whole society, use a portion of their money in order to make sure that they continue to be productive, by knocking out random legislation that comes out of political myth-making seeded by hype. And the best way to do that is, in fact, to buy Congressmen, to take the labor of their productive industry and use it to modify the law— so as to keep the productive nature of the industry going.

JACOB: There are a couple of reasons but for one, there is a feedback loop that is extremely negative. For example, I believe one of the largest political campaign donors in the state of California is the prison guard union, and part of the reason for this is because they like to lobby for stronger laws, not because they care about the rule of law but because there is a job incentive. 97 So, if you see that these people are lobbying to create more prisons, to jail more people, to have longer sentences, what is it they are effectively doing? What they’re doing is they’re using the benefit that they receive for the labor that was actually beneficial— arguably— in order to expand the monopoly that the state grants to them.

“Ok, what you’re doing with your new cultural practice is just morally wrong, so if you don’t want to stop it then we’ll design legal tools to make you stop doing what you think is good.”

“Always act in a way that increases the options.”

I’m just going to say that there is some value in the communication systems and in the freedom of those communications, just as there is value in the freedom of actual bartering.

You can think about censorship as a pyramid. This pyramid only has its tip sticking out of the sand, and that is by intention. The tip is public— libel suits, murders of journalists, cameras being snatched by the military, and so on— publicly declared censorship. But that is the smallest component. Under the tip, the next layer is all those people who don’t want to be at the tip, who engage in self-censorship to not end up there. Then the next layer is all the forms of economic inducement or patronage inducement that are given to people to write about one thing or another. The next layer down is raw economy— what it is economic to write about, even if you don’t include the economic factors from higher up the pyramid. Then the next layer is the prejudice of readers who only have a certain level of education, so therefore on one hand they are easy to manipulate with false information, and on the other hand you can’t even tell them something sophisticated that is true. The last layer is distribution— for example, some people just don’t have access to information in a particular language. So that is the censorship pyramid. What the Guardian is doing with its Cablegate redactions is in the second layer.

ANDY: You know what? We have one good principle in Germany. JACOB: Just the one? ANDY: The principle is that if it is unrealistic for a law to be applied, then it shouldn’t be there.

Governments occupy space, but WikiLeaks occupies part of the space of the internet. Internet space is embedded in real space, but the degree of complexity between the embedded object and the embedding means that it’s not easy for the embedding to tell that the embedded object is even part of it. So that’s why we have this sense of a cyberspace— that it is actually some other realm that exists somewhere— it’s because of the degree of its indirection, complexity and universality.

JULIAN: The Pentagon set up a filtering system so that any email sent to the Pentagon with the word WikiLeaks in it would be filtered. And so in the case of Bradley Manning, the prosecution, in attempting to prosecute the case, of course, was mailing people outside the military about “WikiLeaks,” but they never saw the replies because they had the word “WikiLeaks” in them. 118 The national security state may eat itself yet.

ANDY: Which brings us back to the really basic question: is there something such as negative-effecting information? So, from a society point of view, do we want a censored internet because it’s better for society or not? And even if we talk about child pornography you could argue, “Wait a moment, this child pornography highlights a problem, that is the abuse of children, and in order to solve the problem we need to know the problem.” JACOB: So it provides evidence for the crime.

JULIAN: On the internet what you can do is defined by what programs exist, what programs run, and therefore code is law.

Utopia to me would be a dystopia if there was just one. I think Utopian ideals must mean the diversity of systems and models of interaction. If you look at the churning development of new cultural products and even language drift, and sub-cultures forming their own mechanisms of interaction potentiated by the internet, then yes I can see that that does open this possible positive path.

These highlights are from my readings of Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet, Julian Assange, Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Muller-Maguhn, Jeremie Zimmermann

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