When people are first introduced to libertarianism, people are usually introduced to two types of thought, minarchism and anarchism. Minarchism, to which I personally subscribe, is defined by Wikipedia as “a libertarian political philosophy which advocates for the state to exist solely to provide a very small number of services.” Whereas anarchism is defined as “a political philosophy that advocates self-governed societies based on voluntary institutions.” Of course, once you dive deeper into libertarianism there are many sub-groups of both minarchism and anarchism. Crypto-anarchism is merely one of those branches of anarchistic thought, and it appears to also be the most popular, even amongst the mainstream. In fact, many in the technology communities may be crypto-anarchists and not even realize it. I myself identify myself as a crypto-anarchist when it comes to cyber-space, however I still associate personally with minarchism in non-cyber-space affairs.
First, let’s start off by explaining what crypto-anarchism is. It’s an idea and a concept that began spreading in 1988 when Timothy C. May released his “Crypto Anarchist Manifesto” which introduced the basic principles and ideas of crypto-anarchism which are using encrypted exchanges to ensure total anonymity, total freedom of speech, and total freedom to trade, along with the foreseeable hostility coming from governments. The manifesto itself, is rather small at a mere five paragraphs but is still descriptive as well as as relevant back then as it is today. The entire manifesto can be read here.
It’s amazing to read that a lot of those ideas, as ahead of their time as they were in 1988, have become mainstream. Take a moment to pause from reading this article and just think of all the arguments the USA and other governments have had against technology protecting people’s privacy. Heck, just take a look through Being Libertarian, Ars Technica, Tech Crunch, Level1Techs, or any other site that covers IT related news and see just how many times the government has tried to stop advances in technology that enhances privacy, security, and anonymity. Whether it be the FBI fighting Apple to get into their phones or messages which Apple doesn’t have access to because they use public-key encryption and exchange systems which Facebook, WhatsApp, and many modern websites use in the form of SSL/TLS encryption among other protocols (you know the thing that displays a lock when you browse to certain sites such as Being Libertarian). Let’s even think back to as far back as the Clinton administration in 1996 when the USA was pushing for the FIPS-185 protocol aka escrowed encryption key, to be mandatory in all consumer devices via the “Clipper Chip” which would allow law enforcement a backdoor into any consumer communications. The Crypto-Anarchist Manifesto describes anonymous browsing to come about, which exists in both the The Onion Relay (Tor), the Invisible Internet Project (I2P), and OpenVPN projects. Not to mention all the way back in 1988 described online crypto-currencies being used, which only was created a full 21 years later in 2009. Despite talking about all these ideas way before they could be practically implemented, Timothy May accurately described the State trying to halt the spread of advancing technology by citing national security, use of tech by drug dealers and tax evaders, and even the the fears of societal disintegration. Turn on the news and almost any tech related stories will usually be accompanied by the question of such fears.
I think after anyone reads the Crypto-Anarchist Manifesto there can be little to no doubt from anyone, even the least tech savvy person, that crypto-anarchist thought permeates throughout almost the entirety of the technology community, and especially from the Free, Libre, and Open Source Software (FLOSS) communities and companies. Crypto-anarchism has permeated so much throughout society, that even in the mainstream you will be able to notice it. The government is constantly warning about their inability to access people’s data, communications, and more, with companies as well as FLOSS communities making it harder and harder for the government to access our data. It used to be so difficult to secure, anonymize, and encrypt your information years ago where as today encryption is now a standard feature in Android, iOS, Mac OS, Linux, FreeBSD, Chrome OS, and Windows operating systems. Today I can set up personal computers to be designed with security, privacy, and anonymity that was unimaginable merely a decade ago for a mere couple hundred dollars. For example, I bought a refurbished laptop from a friend for a couple hundred dollars, a simple off-the-shelf Dell Latitude e6430, your typical run of the mill business grade laptop. I threw some more memory and solid state disk, installed Qubes OS Linux, a version of Linux focusing on security and containerization, set up a fully encrypted disk with a few clicks and a long passphrase, let it run the installer for a half hour, did my post install configuration, had it setup Whonix containers for the most reliable and secure way to access and use the Tor network, and within a mere hour I have a laptop that has an insane level of privacy, security, and anonymity for only the cost of a couple hundred dollars. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg regarding what can be done today for little to no money. Many companies and individuals, including myself and Being Libertarian, have taken to using private email, cloud storage, and web servers. Both Being Libertarian and myself build and operate our own servers from hosting providers that have their own encryption and everything to ensure our communications as well as data are made as secure and private as possible. I know many people who even run their email, cloud storage, web servers, and more from on-premise servers in their own homes or businesses to ensure they have the least amount of chance for their being any unauthorized physical or virtual access, and many of them do it with second hand or repurposed computers that no longer had a use. Crypto-anarchism has allowed projects such as Defense Distributed to allow not only the design and concept of 3D printed and privately made and owned CNC’d to become a reality, but also the files to do so are freely distributed across the dark net and bittorrent trackers, despite the Department of Homeland Security saying trying to block the sharing of such files several years ago, the files are still distributed, updated, and improved across the internet with thousands of people working on them.
Crypto-anarchism has been changing the world, and will continue to change the world for the better as time progresses. It has allowed true free markets to spawn up whether it be from the Dot Com Boom, the rise of cryptocurrency, Silk Road or similar markets on the dark net. It has also allowed for inalienable rights such as that of freedom of speech, freedom to not self-incriminate, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure without a warrant, and more ideas to not only remain as mere ideas but to be enforced and protected in our own electronic devices. So that not only can I ensure that government’s go through the proper legal channels to violate my right to privacy, but that also in areas of political discontent journalists as well as regular individuals can have tools to protect their rights to free speech and free access to information. Thanks to the principles and ideas of Crypto-anarchism it allows us a popular and broadly accepted train of thought to oppose and protect against the growing Orwellian police state we are seeing around the world. It has changed the elitist ways in which information was once disseminated to the masses and will continue to do so in the future. It has revolutionized the ways people can remain private, secure, and anonymous. It has also created new and innovative ways to arm journalists, political dissidents, and revolutionaries with ways to communicate, defend themselves, as well as to fight for freedom. These days, the keyboard is mightier than the sword. Because with a keyboard you can spread the truth anonymously, securely, and privately, but you can also use that same keyboard to program the G-Code into a CNC or the STL file into a 3D Printer to produce a firearm you can use to defend yourself, your family, or your rights.