Before Bitcoin is a series which aims to give you a historical perspective of cryptocurrency’s technology and philosophy. We dive into the 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s.
I advise you to read the previous parts to this series otherwise you will gain little out of reading this piece. The joy of this series is not necessarily in gaining new knowledge but rather an appreciation of our unique position in history. This whole series is a long read (1hr 06m so far) but I have been told it was well worth it : Part One: 1970s, Part Two: 1980s, Part Three: 1990s
I have decided to cut off the series at Part 4 despite planning out a five part series. The 5th part of the series was intended on Bitcoin itself and the early forks of it, however there is more than enough out there to cover what I want to convey (I will link these items at the end of this piece) ~ this last piece looks to cap the whole series off 🙂
Continuing on from the 90s
This movement fought the injustices of the US Government and their treatment of digital rights. It all began over a series of hacker raids that would spark a decade long skirmish between the cypherpunks and the government. With civil rights emerging victorious, the world was no longer 1992. Cryptography was removed from the Munitions Act and code was officially deemed under the protection of the first amendment act of free speech. By the end of the 90s, it was a different world. MSN was founded in ’95 and Google was founded in ’98. In 2001, Apple would soon release its first iPod to change mobile technology forever, Myspace would emerge in 2003, Facebook in 2004 and YouTube in 2005. The world was changing and a new era was on the cusp.
But what about the cypherpunks?
After the late 90’s victory over the government, there was a short time period where things seemed quiet. And naturally, there was no need for a underground dwelling of rebels anymore. Cryptography was legally open sourced and its export from the US spread strong cryptography all over the world.
By the 2000s, cypherpunk mailing list activity was dying out. After the attack of 911, the government questionably increased their brute force authorisation on hosting services for investigations and soon cypherpunk mailing lists were shut down. As a joke, one of the last cypherpunk mailing lists renamed themselves firstname.lastname@example.org
In an recent video conference call in 2016, Timothy C. May remembers that “I didn’t think it was be too smart to be a part of a group labeled al-queda.net”.
Many others thought the same and the members of the list fled else where. With over thousands of messages spanning over nearly a whole decade, it served as the cypherpunk war room and home of the 90’s techno-libertarian spirit. With the infamous mailing list coming to a end, things just getting started for the cypherpunks.
A Cambrian explosion of internet information services would erupt in the following decade and change society forever. And with developing applications of the internet from file sharing, video streaming, gaming and ecommerce, the cypherpunk missions of privacy and uncensored technological freedom stayed ever relevant.
It lives on…
The cypherpunks spirit continuously lives on through BitTorrent, the TOR Project, Pirate Bay, Wikileaks, Silk Road, Dark Net Markets and all its contributors where many were part of the original cypherpunks mailing list. Julian Assange was an very active member back in 1995 and so were core members of the TOR project, BitTorrent and other open source advocates.
But also through Bitcoin and the Web 3.0…
We often lose track of perspective of where we are in history. It is far too easy to look no further beyond the local maximum of technological innovation. That was the reason why I wrote the series “Before Bitcoin”. Bitcoin wasn’t a eureka moment. It was a technology constructed with ideas and blueprints spanning over nearly half a century. It is part of a movement that had been brewing for the last 40–50 year starting with Martin Hellman, Whitfield Diffie and Ralph Merkle’s open source publication of public key cryptography.
They started the movement of the cypherpunks that would seed the ideology behind Bitcoin. It enabled true immutability and censorship resistance data, but more importantly it was a significant o to 1 moment for decentralised technologies. The rag-tagged bits and pieces making up Bitcoin can be found in the waking trail of the cypherpunks. Satoshi built Bitcoin along with Hal Finney, Nick Szabo and Wei Dai. It was handcrafted by the veterans of the 90’s cryptowars. It was part of the inventing spirit of the cypherpunk movement that will continue to live on.
While this might be a historical series, it is yet to conclude as we are all part of it and continuing it. Motionless and still, it seems…but one thing is certain in history and that is change. And it has been part of the cypherpunks movement for the last 40–50 years. We have to take a step back and appreciate that Bitcoin, and now: Ethereum, is simply another piece of the puzzle that will fit into our story and movement of the cypherpunks.
It is simply just another important stepping stone for the movement, just like public key cryptography, the cypherpunks mailing list, BitTorrent, TOR and Wikileaks.We have to look beyond what is in the present and into the future in order to shape the world that we want.
While David Chaum knew about the consequences of a centralised internet, no one else believed him to work towards a better future. We may not realise it but we are moving towards something that is way bigger than anyone can imaginably conceive. A future build on cryptography and liberty. Even back in the 70s, Martin Hellman and Whitfield Diffie knew it themselves:
“We stand today on the brink of a revolution in cryptography”
Thank you and it has been a pleasure writing this series, I hope you have enjoyed it. History is rich and full of surprises, it simply takes some effort to look around. There is a lot to be gained: knowledge, gratitude and wisdom. Next time, look into it; you will find richness and delight on par with the creation of public key cryptography and the cypherpunks themselves.
The “Before Bitcoin” Series pays homage all the heroes who fought to protect privacy, freedom and liberty. While the spotlight of this series did land on a select few, I want to also address those individuals whose names were not mentioned, the names that fell through the cracks of history, the early internet engineers that wrote and maintained code for public infrastructure, the cryptographers whose sought to protect the freedom of speech and privacy, the vendors who risked their freedom to enable free commerce of contraband goods, the contributors who answered the stack exchange queries, the open source project managers, and the whistleblowers who sacrificed their own well being to bring injustice into the light.
This concludes the Before Bitcoin series! I hope you enjoyed this series, please share it with one other person else who might enjoy the same pleasure. Donations are also welcome as they will go towards supporting my full-time self-study of blockchains, cryptography, and computer science. (reach me at peterpan.co)