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Reviewing 'A Cypherpunk's Manifesto'

Eric Hughes was an original Cypherpunk and administered the original Cypherpunk mailing list. An American mathematician and computer programmer, he was a founder of the Cypherpunk movement, and is believed to have coined the motto, "Cypherpunks write code."

Though relatively unknown to new entrants to crypto, this early influence is foundational to open, accessible, and secure digital money and digital assets. Let's review his original manifesto espousing the purpose, values, and aspirations of the original Cypherpunks.

As stated by Eric in A Cypherpunk's Manifesto:

Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age. Privacy is not secrecy. A private matter is something one doesn't want the whole world to know, but a secret matter is something one doesn't want anybody to know. Privacy is the power to selectively reveal oneself to the world.

The distinction between privacy and secrecy are not frequently drawn out. Hughes differentiates them as shielding information from a mass audience (privacy) vs shielding information from all audiences (secrecy). This view is reflected in the decisions and trade-offs chosen by different cryptocurrencies when considering different privacy implementations such as Litecoin (privacy) vs Monero (closer to secrecy).

If two parties have some sort of dealings, then each has a memory of their interaction. Each party can speak about their own memory of this; how could anyone prevent it? One could pass laws against it, but the freedom of speech, even more than privacy, is fundamental to an open society; we seek not to restrict any speech at all. If many parties speak together in the same forum, each can speak to all the others and aggregate together knowledge about individuals and other parties. The power of electronic communications has enabled such group speech, and it will not go away merely because we might want it to.

The power of free speech and assembly are fundamental to cryptography and blockchain technology. As frequently stated regarding Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies are a means of communicating value with finality and globally. Such global consensus is novel to the 21st century, and opens new avenues for global economic cooperation.

As a case for all serious cryptocurrencies, the free ability to communicate value in one's chosen terms — whether though stablecoins, Bitcoin, or altcoins — is fundamental to free speech. Even if one doesn't like alternatives to their chosen cryptocurrency, none should push for exclusionary regulation that would limit this free speech.

Since we desire privacy, we must ensure that each party to a transaction have knowledge only of that which is directly necessary for that transaction. Since any information can be spoken of, we must ensure that we reveal as little as possible. In most cases personal identity is not salient. When I purchase a magazine at a store and hand cash to the clerk, there is no need to know who I am. When I ask my electronic mail provider to send and receive messages, my provider need not know to whom I am speaking or what I am saying or what others are saying to me; my provider only need know how to get the message there and how much I owe them in fees. When my identity is revealed by the underlying mechanism of the transaction, I have no privacy. I cannot here selectively reveal myself; I must always reveal myself.
Therefore, privacy in an open society requires anonymous transaction systems. Until now, cash has been the primary such system. An anonymous transaction system is not a secret transaction system. An anonymous system empowers individuals to reveal their identity when desired and only when desired; this is the essence of privacy.

Contrary to modern norms, there is no need for gathering information regarding the purchaser or seller except by passing a bearer instrument of value (Litecoin, Monero, or others) in exchange for some good or service between the involved parties. As long as each side of the exchange comes from the rightful owner of the property or currency, all other information is unnecessary and only benefits onlookers and data aggregators. This is why the basic implementation of MWEB on Litecoin provides the backbone of native privacy needed for you to truly be able to reveal the information you want when you want without having to exchange assets with associated exchange friction and fees. Monero takes privacy beyond optional and toward the realm of secrecy as defined by Hughes. Both of these are in stark contrast to Bitcoin, which is a proudly 100% open and transparent ledger. With privacy only as good as your ability to maintain pseudonymity, Bitcoin is not anonymous for the non-technical user.

Privacy in an open society also requires cryptography. If I say something, I want it heard only by those for whom I intend it. If the content of my speech is available to the world, I have no privacy. To encrypt is to indicate the desire for privacy, and to encrypt with weak cryptography is to indicate not too much desire for privacy. Furthermore, to reveal one's identity with assurance when the default is anonymity requires the cryptographic signature.
We cannot expect governments, corporations, or other large, faceless organizations to grant us privacy out of their beneficence. It is to their advantage to speak of us, and we should expect that they will speak. To try to prevent their speech is to fight against the realities of information. Information does not just want to be free, it longs to be free. Information expands to fill the available storage space. Information is Rumor's younger, stronger cousin; Information is fleeter of foot, has more eyes, knows more, and understands less than Rumor.
We must defend our own privacy if we expect to have any. We must come together and create systems which allow anonymous transactions to take place. People have been defending their own privacy for centuries with whispers, darkness, envelopes, closed doors, secret handshakes, and couriers. The technologies of the past did not allow for strong privacy, but electronic technologies do.

Litecoin's recent implementation of MimbleWimble Extension Blocks (MWEB) is a first step toward defending privacy. Though originally pseudonymity was adequate for the beginning of Bitcoin, it is now its biggest weakness. Now, with a decreasing ability to mine your way into the network, the importance of transitioning from pseudonymity to anonymity is mounting. With the first wave of mass surveillance combining chain surveillance with targeting fiat on and off-ramps, it is now much more difficult for the average user to hold and use Bitcoin (and now to a lesser extent Litecoin) in a manner that is not traceable from the original purchase through to the end point when spending for goods/services. MWEB is the first step in the ability for users to opt-out of or re-enter a traceable chain of custody in an intuitive manner. Although not completely private in its current form, future developments should only improve the certainty of MWEB's privacy and ability to selectively reveal your holdings or activities.

We the Cypherpunks are dedicated to building anonymous systems. We are defending our privacy with cryptography, with anonymous mail forwarding systems, with digital signatures, and with electronic money.
Cypherpunks write code. We know that someone has to write software to defend privacy, and since we can't get privacy unless we all do, we're going to write it. We publish our code so that our fellow Cypherpunks may practice and play with it. Our code is free for all to use, worldwide. We don't much care if you don't approve of the software we write. We know that software can't be destroyed and that a widely dispersed system can't be shut down.
Cypherpunks deplore regulations on cryptography, for encryption is fundamentally a private act. The act of encryption, in fact, removes information from the public realm. Even laws against cryptography reach only so far as a nation's border and the arm of its violence. Cryptography will ineluctably spread over the whole globe, and with it the anonymous transactions systems that it makes possible.

This touches on the perverseness of hoping regulators reduce choice in cryptocurrencies, or begin to pick winners or losers. A good example is El Salvador adopting Bitcoin. One of the more controversial parts of the bill involved Article 7, which specifies that "every economic agent must accept Bitcoin as payment when offered to him by whoever acquires a good or service." Although later articles provide a subjective way out of this requirement, and Nayib Bukele has clarified that it will not be enforced as written, relying on the goodwill of governments is not in the best interest of sovereign individuals. Supporting the idea of state-approved crypto technologies only engrains in the culture that some levels of privacy are more acceptable than others.

For privacy to be widespread it must be part of a social contract. People must come and together deploy these systems for the common good. Privacy only extends so far as the cooperation of one's fellows in society. We the Cypherpunks seek your questions and your concerns and hope we may engage you so that we do not deceive ourselves. We will not, however, be moved out of our course because some may disagree with our goals.
The Cypherpunks are actively engaged in making the networks safer for privacy. Let us proceed together apace.
Eric Hughes (9 March 1993)

Although I have no coding skills and cannot claim to be a Cypherpunk myself, I admire those who do have the skills and ideas to advance free/non-state money. Open source development and an open market of ideas provide the best opportunity for me, as a normal and non-technical user, to choose a hard money that provides the level of privacy (or secrecy) I want. With this in mind, the entire Litecoin community should be ecstatic about the forward push by other Litecoiners to embrace privacy. Instead of waiting on Bitcoin to continue in the Cypherpunk path, digital silver is trailblazing it's own path toward financial sovereignty that is both uncensorable and untraceable. Litecoin provides one of the best tools to both hold your own keys, while being able to trustlessly control your own level of privacy based on your personal desire. Let's continue to thank developers following in the footsteps of the original Cypherpunks, and support them as they push toward a world of human rights and personal autonomy. Litecoin truly is the world's most versatile money.


- Vitamin Ł (@LtcBtc)


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