Scientific Research & Self-Development Activism
I have done some investigation to what Cypherpunks are all about, the subgroup that Julian Assange and many others affiliate themselves with. After some research I found this post on the old mailing-list (the message is from 1997), that gives a great insight to what the Cypherpunk movement is all about.
Computers are really good at tying information together - take one thing you know, and they can connect it to other things they know - and they're getting so ridiculously cheap that the only reason they _don't_ tie two things together is that nobody's figured out how to make money off of that combination yet. We know that after Bob bought gas, he had a couple of drinks at a bar where many of the other patrons use the same credit cards at gay bookstores, but we just haven't decided yet whether to send _you_ some discount coupons for the same bookstores, or to suggest that your girlfriend Alice get an AIDS test before we'll give her medical insurance at her new job. After all, we're already testing her cholesterol level because of all the pork you've been buying at Safeway.
So what can we do about it? Computers keep getting cheaper and faster every year, and that won't stop. Laws don't help much. Some European governments try data privacy laws, but they're mainly an excuse to inspect _your_ computer for illicit data - the same governments already require you to join the National Health Care and carry a National ID card in many of them, and pay income tax, and there's that nice new EC driver's license instead of the old one from each country. The US makes some noise about that, but it's the same government that's making you give your SSN and thumbprint to get a driver's license and registering all kids with the IRS.
If you can't stop people from combining information, the alternative is don't give it to them - use cash, but more importantly build computer systems that let businesses solve their business problems without universal identifiers. Use employee ID numbers on forms instead of SSNs (and in a global business environment, it's pretty dumb to do otherwise.) Use cryptographic techniques, like digital cash, to let people buy things
on the web without sending your credit card numbers. There's some cool work by David Chaum on creating credentials, like driver's licenses that keep track of your tickets but don't use ID numbers, and voter registration that indicates your voting district and status but aren't tied to the census that says three of your neighbors are black with Haitian parents.
You can give everybody a stack of taxpayer-ids, whether on paper or on a smartcard, any bank or employer that needs to collect taxes on you has a number to use, but only the IRS can tie them together, because nobody else needs to. 9-digit SSNs are running out soon anyway; we could change to something secure for the next time.
Chaum's digicash system was designed for automated road tolls, so you can drive through the tollbooth without slowing down, and the toll system takes the money off your smartcard, without telling Big Brother where _you_ were. Here in California, we can send a monthly bill to the address on your license, but there are European countries that are still remember having German or Russian soldiers running them and want an infrastructure they can't abuse. We're more worried about the automatic traffic fines, when your car didn't take enough minutes to get from Exit 4 to Exit 17 Friday night. You know the exit by that bar Bob went to - next door to the synagogue bookstore.
There's an alternative to crypto - it's "give up privacy". Go the David Brin route, and make sure that if the police have video cameras everywhere pointed at you, you and your neighbors have video cameras everywhere pointed at them. Ask Rodney King if that matters - or ask the next cop who wants to beat up the next driver. Cameras keep getting cheaper and smaller, and networks to tie them together and computers to interpret the pictures are getting faster.
And the police do have cameras - last year, when San Francisco was planning
to close the Central Freeway for repairs, they video taped all the cars for a few days, looked up the license plate numbers, and mailed the drivers postcards asking them to take a different road when construction started. It worked real well, especially because they didn't need 100% coverage. They used cheap labor to read the license plates off the video tapes, but computers can do it in real time if you need to do it often, and they can match the SSN on your car registration with the SSN on your tax forms from work, so they _could_ send you a nice postcard suggesting the best router to get to _your_ office. And a coupon for the Starbucks drivethrough on the way.
The conclusion is then, that there are two actions that are possible in the perspective of the cypherpunks -- either you try to keep your information private, with tools developed by Cypherpunks like Tor, and other ways. Or you try to expose the data kept private by those who use force on you, or collect your data, like wikileaks goal is. For the cypherpunk movement, it is the structure of the system that is important, not the individuals in it. Do you know more about the cypherpunks, or do have thoughts and reflections on the mater? please post a comment!