1997-05-21 - Cypherpunk criminalization

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From: Michael Wilson <0005514706@mcimail.com>
To: cypherpunks <cypherpunks@algebra.com>
Message Hash: be3763ab5e28bfffbd3ae992893082c1ca25adb46dde45563f2244d0e6712026
Message ID: <97052117355649/0005514706DC6EM@mcimail.com>
Reply To: N/A
UTC Datetime: 1997-05-21 17:47:10 UTC
Raw Date: Thu, 22 May 1997 01:47:10 +0800

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From: Michael Wilson <0005514706@mcimail.com>
Date: Thu, 22 May 1997 01:47:10 +0800
To: cypherpunks <cypherpunks@algebra.com>
Subject: Cypherpunk criminalization
Message-ID: <97052117355649/0005514706DC6EM@mcimail.com>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

The occasion of Jim Bell's arrest provides an opportunity to consider
a number of points:

Are Federal Agents Evil?
Why is there an attempt to persecute Jim Bell, one that has many
similarities to the Olympic Park Bombing rush-to-judgment, Ruby
Ridge, Waco, OK City, etc.?  Are we to believe that government
agents are 'evil,' or True Believers that _we_ (those who are _not_
true believers) are evil?  I personally think not.  I think we are
seeing a phenomenon that is rather simple--government agents will tend
to pursue cases that may get them recognition or promotion.  People
like Jim Bell pass some mobile threshold where their case is media
'hot' or sexy enough to make it worth pursuing--the Feds get a collar
and media attention, a prosecutor gets similar benefits, judges are
notoriously easy to inflame for the proper paperwork to be obtained,
etc.  Are the rest of the cypherpunks at risk?  Looking at it with
my game theorist hat on, I suspect not--while Tim May has been
pushing the envelope recently, I don't think he's crossed any line
would allow the appearance of a 'good bust,' nor has anyone else on
the list (to my direct knowledge).  I think we're witnessing a bit
of the same mentality that literally did allow the operation of the
Nazis--they're just doing their job, just following orders, just
being part of their bureaucracy, with perhaps a few True Believers
to leaven the mix.

Technology vs. Public Relations/Propaganda
Cypherpunks write code, we hear it often enough as the credo of the
'movement.'  On the other hand, as valuable a social service as it
actually has been, the war is being fought on other terms.  Crypto
has been characterized as 'offensive' technology, in two senses of
the term--a regulated weapons technology, and a socially unacceptable
act.  This manifests in the 'what have you got to hide' mentality,
coupled with the trotting out of the Four+ Horsemen.  We're losing this
part of the war, and the cutting of more code isn't going to help us
one bit.  We need to turn the public perception around.  What we're
seeing in this case is a rather rapid erosion of the legal principles
of an expectation of privacy (I won't engage in the rather lengthy
discussion of this, but I recommend the interested parties do take
the time to read in a good law library, or hunt down the materials on
the Bork nomination to the Supreme Court).  We've become a society
that is expected to publicly air our dirty laundry, to march onto a
television talk-show and expose our faults, foibles, and felonies.
We need to fight back in ways that communicate to Joe Sixpack, also
known as the Common Man--we all have secrets, we all have things we
don't want people to know.  Build the database!  Get the testimonials!

Let me briefly mention some of the sorts of need for privacy, secrecy,
anonymity that are socially acceptable, and which we need to use to
reinforce our own message:
--AIDS testing;
--Illness diagnosis, such as cancer;
--Financial information: credit card numbers, bank balances, net worth;
--Dropping the dime on crime: mob witnesses, corporations, your noisy
neighbor who abuses their kids but owns a shotgun;
--Donations to needy causes, but not wanting everyone to have their
hand out;
--Personal habits: alcoholism, drug use, gambling addiction, sexual
--Common law privileges: confessional, physician or attorney relation
to their client.

In short, we all have things we want to remain secret, and we certainly
don't want them to be 'exposed,' or to fall into the wrong hands. We
need to take the issue back from the criminalization of having secrets
to a place where crypto is viewed as a defensive technology--we're
entitled to it, and our privacy.

Crypto vs. the Government
This is the biggest area of contention.  The cypherpunk case is that
strong, unescrowed cryptography is essential--we have no reason to
assume that government is our friend (pull out the file of long-term
government abuses here, from using the IRS to pursue political
targets to the mail-opening programs of the FBI/CIA), and more to the
point, this isn't a 'local' issue that is categorized by a singular
stance on the part of the U.S. government.  The cryptosystems we
build and promote are used in places where they protect human rights
workers, economic security and competitiveness, privacy, etc.  The
Internet and the tools are global, so we're on a battlefield that also
-Europe, including the Former Soviet Republics and Bosnia, where strong
crypto is critical for freedom-loving movements;
-Asia, where users of strong crypto use it to prevent competitive
intelligence or organized espionage programs from impacting on their
business, in particular, from actions of those U.S. 'allies' Japan,
Korea, China;
-the Middle East, where strong crypto protects human rights workers,
businesses, and individuals who have an un-Islamic taste for things
like pornography, or news; see 'rogue' States like Iran, but also
U.S. 'allies' like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, Kuwait, etc.

And the global battle means that we have to set an example, allow access,
and fight those efforts on our own turf (does anyone really think that
Asian or European competitive intelligence or espionage efforts don't
also take place on American soil?).

The U.S. government has made good use of the insinuation that if we
have things to hide, then in a free and open democracy, we must be
actively engaged in criminal activity.  Certainly, strong cryptography
of many sorts is being used to protect criminal activity.  It is also
a principle upon which the American system is based that you don't
deprive the rights and freedom of the majority, those who have not
committed any crime, merely in an effort to pursue the felonious.
This is why you still need a properly executed warrant to search an
area which has an expectation of privacy (which _is_ being slowly
eroded as a legal principle, which we need to point out as a trend).
As Tim May likes to point out, there are an increasing number of laws
that individuals can be pursued under, with ever more general levels
of interpretation.  Convictions make convicts.  Bureaucracies tend
to grow, seeking more power for themselves, until 'that which is not
compulsory is illegal, and that which is not illegal is compulsory.'
Students of history are well aware of what comes next in the cycle--
revolution.  My only observation on this is that America has always
been willing to speed through trend curves, and it looks like she is
flooring the accelerator in this case--from growing State, to global
Power, to dying Empire.  Think of it like an organic system, and
like any entity, it reacts poorly to what it rightly views as being
a threat to its own survival--cypherpunks among many.

Sign me:
A Man With Many Secrets and Much to Hide
Michael Wilson