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Libertaria in Cyberspace

"Libertaria in Cyberspace"

I wrote, and then James Still wrote:

>>So, I would agree that Rand was one of the prime motivators of crypto
>>anarchy. What she wanted to do with material technology (mirrors over
>>Galt's Gulch) is _much_ more easily done with mathematical technology.
>>Someday I'll repost my essay "Libertaria in Cyberspace" to this List.
>I've never seen it, how about humoring me and making "someday" today?

Your wish is my command! Originally written for the "Extropians" mailing
list, nearly a year ago, there are undoubtedly things that could be changed
or improved. 

Reaching this state of "Libertaria," if it ever happens, will take a lot
more than the Cypherpunks remailers of today. Digital money, truly
anonymous transactions (a la Chaum's "Dining Cryptographers Net"), digital
escrow services, reputations, etc., are all needed.

Here it is:

To: [email protected]
From: [email protected] (Timothy C. May)
X-Original-Message-Id: <[email protected]>
Subject: Libertaria in Cyberspace
Date: Tue, 1 Sep 92 11:42:12 PDT
X-Extropian-Date: Remailed on September 1, 372 P.N.O. [18:42:47 UTC]




Here are a few points about why "cyberspace," or a computer-mediated
network, is more hospitable than physical locations for the kind of
"crypto anarchy" libertarian system I've been describing.

Several folks have commented recently about ocean-going libertarian
havens, supertankers used as data havens, and so forth. In the 1970s,
especially, there were several unsuccessful attempts to acquire
islands in the Pacific for the site of what some called "Libertaria."
(Some keywords: Vanuatu, Minerva, Mike Oliver, Tonga)

Obtaining an entire island is problematic. Getting the consent of the
residents is one issue (familiar to those on the this list who
weathered the Hurrican Andrew diversion debate). Being _allowed_ to
operate by the leading world powers is another....the U.S. has
enforced trade embargoes and blockades against many nations in the
past several decades, including Cuba, North Korea, Libya, Iran, Iraq,
andothers. Further, the U.S. has invaded some countries---Panama- is a
good example---whose government it disliked. How long would a
supertanker "data haven" or libertarian regime last in such an
environment? (Stephenson's fascinating "SnowCrash" didn't address tthe
issue of why the "Raft" wasn't simply sunk by the remaining military

I should note that the recent splintering of countries may provide
opportunities for libertarian (or PPL, if your prefer to think of it
in this way) regions. Some have speculated that Russia itself is a
candidate, given that it has little vested in the previous system and
may be willing to abandon statism. If several dozen new countries are
formed, some opportunities exist..

The basic problem is that _physical space_ is too small, too exposed
to the view of others. "Libertaria" in the form of, say, an island, is
too exposed to the retaliatation of world powers. (I won't go into the
"private nukes" strategy, which I need to think about further.)

A floating private nation (or whatever it's called) is too vulnerable
to a single well-placed torpedo. Even if it serves as a kind of Swiss
bank, and thus gets some of the same protection Switzerland got (to
wit, many leaders kept their loot there), it is too vulnerable to a
single attacker or invader. Piracy will be just one of the problems.

Finally, how many of us want to move to a South Pacific island? Or a
North Sea oil rig? Or even to Russia? 

Cyberspace looks more promising. There is more "space" in cyberspace,
thus allowing more security and more colonizable space. And this space
is coterminous with our physical space, accessible with proper
terminals from any place in the world (though there may be attempts in
physical space to block access, to restrict access to necessay
cryptographic methods, etc.).

I won't go into the various cryptographic methods here (see my earlier
posting on the "Dining Cryptographers" protocol and various other
postings on public key systems, digital mixes, electronic cash, etc.).
Interested readers have many sources. (I have just read a superb
survey of these new techniques, the 1992 Ph.D. thesis of Jurgen Bos,
"Practical Privacy," which deals with these various protocols in a
nice little book.)

Alice and Bob, our favorite cryptographic stand-ins, can communicate
and transact business without ever meeting or even knowing who the
other is. This can be extended to create virtual communities subject
only to rules they themselves reach agreement on, much like this very
Extropians list. Private law is the only law, as there is no appeal to
some higher authority like the Pope or police. (This is why I said in
several of my potings on the Hurricane Andrew debate that I am
sympathetic to the PPL view.)

And this is the most compelling advantage of "Crypto Libertaria": an
arbitrarily large number of separate "nations" can simultaneously
exist. This allows for rapid experimentation, self-selection, and
evolution. If folks get tired of some virtual community, they can
leave. The cryptographic aspects mean their membership in some
community is unknown to others (vis-a-vis the physical or outside
world, i.e., their "true names") and physical coercion is reduced.

Communalists are free to create a communal environment, Creative
Anachronists are free to create their own idea of a space, and so on.
I'm not even getting into the virtual reality-photorealistic
images-Jaron Lanier sort of thing, as even current text-based systems
are demonstrably enough to allow the kind of virtual communities I'm
describing here (and described in Vinge's "True Names," in Gibson's
"Neuromancer," in Sterling's "Islands in the Net," and in Stephenson's
"Snow Crash"...though all of them missed out on some of the most
exciting aspects...perhaps my novel will hit the mark?).

But will the government allow these sorts of things? Won't they just
torpedo it, just as they'd torpedo an offshore ooirig data haven?

The key is that distributed systems have no nexus which can be knocked
out. Neither Usenet norFidoNet can be disabled by any single
government, as they are worldwide. Shutting them down would mean
banning computer-to-computer communication. And despite the talk of
mandatory "trap doors" in encryption systems, encryption is
fundamentally easy to do and hard to detect. (For those who doubt
this, let me describe a simple system I posted to sci.crypt several
years ago. An ordinary digital audio tape (DAT) carries more than a
gigabyte of data. This means that thhe least significant bit (LSB) of
an audio DAT recordingng carries about 8megabytes of data! So Alice is
stopped by the Data Police. They ask if she's carrying illegal data.
She smiles inocently and say "No. I know you'll search me." They find
her Sony DATman and ask about her collection of tapes and live
recordings. Alice is carrying 80 MB of data---about 3 entire days
worth of Usenet feeds!---on each and every tape. The data are stored
in the LSBs, completely indistinguishable from microphone and
quantization noise...unless you know the key. Similar methods allow
data to be undetectably packed into LSBs of the PICT and GIF pictures
now flooding the Net, into sampled sounds, and even into messages like
this...the "whitespace" on the right margin of this message carries a
hidden message readable only to a few chosen Extropians.)

I've already described using religions and role-playing games as a
kind of legal cover for the development and deployment of these
techniques. If a church decides to offer "digital confessionals" for
its far-flung members, by what argument will the U.S. government
justify insisting that encryption not be used? (I should note that
psychiatrists and similar professionals have a responsibility to their
clients and to their licensing agencies to ensure the privacy of
patient records. Friends of mine are using encryption to protect
patient records. This is just one little example of how encryption is
getting woven into the fabric of our electronic society. There are
many other examples.)

In future discussions, I hope we can hit on some of the many
approaches to deploying these methods. I've spent several years
thinking about this, but I've surely missed some good ideas. The
"crypto anarchy game" being planned is an attempt to get some of the
best hackers in the Bay Area thinking along these lines and thinking
of new wrinkles. Several have already offered to help further.

Some have commented that this list is not an appropriate place to
discuss these ideas. I think it is. We are not discussing
anything that is actually illegal, even under the broad powers of RICO
(Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, used to go after
"conspiracies" of porn dealers and gun dealers, amongst others). What
we are discussing are long-range implications of these ideas.

In conclusion, it will be easier to form certain types of libertarian
societies in cyberspace than in the real world of nations and physical
locations. The electronic world is by no means complete, as we will
still live much of our lives in the physical world. But economic
activity is sharply increasing in the Net domain and these "crypto
anarchy" ideas will further erode the power of physical states to tax
and coerce residents.

Libertaria will thrive in cyberspace.

-Tim May

Timothy C. May         | Crypto Anarchy: encryption, digital money,  
[email protected]       | anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero
408-688-5409           | knowledge, reputations, information markets, 
W.A.S.T.E.: Aptos, CA  | black markets, collapse of governments.
Higher Power: 2^756839 | Public Key: by arrangement
Note: I put time and money into writing this posting. I hope you enjoy it.