30 November 2012
Review: Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet
Cypherpunks1: Freedom and the Future of the Internet, by
Julian Assange with Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn and
Jérémie Zimmermann. OR Books, New York, 2012, 186 pages, Paper.
This is a highly informative book, perhaps the best published on the substance
of WikiLeaks, its technology, philosophy, origin and purpose, rooted in the
Cypherpunks resistance to authority through encryption and anonymizing
technology. The trenchant and salient, wide-ranging discussion among Assange,
Appelbaum, Müller-Maguhn and Zimmermann, is derived from a
RT series with additional editorial material and a summarizing prologue
by Assange, "A
Call to Cryptographic Arms."
It is an excellent introduction to the struggle for control of digital
communications, economics and governance. A prime candidate for inclusion
of reading lists of the enemies of authoritarian institutions, corporations
and governments heavily invested in the Internet and aiming to control it
by secret collusion for their purposes -- at the global public's expense,
loss of privacy and reduced democracy. It claims to be a "watchman's warning"
against the threat posed by the Internet and cellphone technology.
The panel asserts:
1. The internet is a threat to human civilization because of its panoptic
surveillance and profiling of users.
2. "Strategic surveillance" gathers all online and cellphone data as
distinguished from tactical surveillance with is specifically targeted.
3. Internet and cellphones allow surveillance more efficiently and pervasively
than in the physical world.
4. Individuals can be surveilled more easily if they remain mesmerized by
computers, cellphones and social media.
5. Encryption prevents access to private secrets by official and commercial
online surveillance and by cellphones.
6. Protestors in Arab Spring went to the streets when cellphone and online
systems were disabled and thereby escaped digital surveillance.
7. General purpose computers avoid the built-in controls of special purpose
computers and devices.
8. Free software avoids the control of restrictive governmental and commercial
9. Free encryption and anonymizing technologies can protect against authoritarian
aggression embedded in the equipment and operating systems of computers,
cellphones, networks, internet service providers, financial institutions
10. Younger generations will need to invent and distribute ideas, critiques,
code and technology against the legacy controls of older generations
indoctrinated in submissive acceptance of authority.
11. Diverse, heterogenic concepts and technology will be required to oppose
centralizing, homogenizing intents of the government- and commerce-dominated
Internet and cellphones.
Evgeny Morozov and other net-negativists may scowl at the blind faith in
encryption and anonymizing technology to save the Internet for its all too
gullible users. Some cypherpunks are appalled at what WikiLeaks and Assange
have become through excessive publicity and promotion by supporters and
opponents.2 The book could be seen as a compendium of what not
to do about communications security, privacy, secrecy and authoritarianism
-- for that it is to be studied carefully.
For me, the greatest virtue of this book is its description of what comes
after the lessons learned of Cypherpunks and WikiLeaks -- from the diverse
initiatives nobody yet knows about due to deliberate avoidance of preening,
Read between the book's lines, there are undisclosed means and methods inside
them to panic decrypting and surveilling authoritarians and their opponents
into attacking each other.4
Admire the book's critique of those obsessed with being in the vanguard of
protecting the public, covert authoritarians in power-seeking, monetizing
Lesson one: Protect yourself by keeping quiet, offline and sans cell, avoiding
These comments will change, provoked by this book.
Note 1: Wikipedia on
Note 2: This Machine
Kills Secrets, by Andy Greenberg.
Note 3: Archive of
Cypherpunk mail list 1992-1998 (Zipped, 83MB).
Note 4: Julian Assange
writes on the Cypherpunks mail list 1995-2002.
Last week Amazon listed this book but today there is no listing (Amazon is
a centralizing force criticized by the book, which may account for its USG-like
censorship). Nor could a copy be found in three New York City bookstores.
So we went to the publisher, OR Books, to buy a copy from its "R," Colin
Robinson. from OR.