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4 more horsemen — a review of Cypherpunks

Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet

Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet by Andy Greenberg

NOTE: Originally posted on Medium.

This book is really a footnoted conversation between Julian Assange, Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn and Jérémie Zimmermann, some big names in the internet/activist/anarchist/online security communities. It would have been great to see this as a video, but in some cases the footnotes are essential.

Their conversation reminds me of the discussions we have in Talk Club (a local, salon-like discussion group): no holds barred, anything goes, blue sky solutioneering. But these guys are not only really smart, they are professionals in their fields. When they riff upon one another, sure some batshit crazy stuff comes out, but more often than not the reader is nodding his head along to some brilliant comment or another.

Some of it is just being clever. Says Assange:

Cryptography is the ultimate form of non-violent direct action.


A mobile phone is a tracking device that also makes calls.

but at a more profound level:

It was a fact of physics that it was possible to make an atomic bomb, and when an atomic bomb was made then geo-politics changed.

The “platonic realm” of the internet is the source of a political disruption on a grand scale for these four men, but it is also the salvation of the people. Their conversation serves as a warning to those people not to depend on government or corporate coddling, but to take responsibility online, to be the final arbiters of their online destiny.

This book is certainly a product of its time, especially since it is so lodged in the situations of WikiLeaks and Assange’s incarceration. The protests against SOPA and PIPA feature heavily as do ACTA, and the 2012 views on BitCoin seem quaint from our current historical vantage point. Regardless, it serves as a primer on cryptoanarchy, but furthermore on the problems of privacy and surveillance, freedom of expression and censorship, and the politics of a new web savvy activism. A quick read, you will probably be looking for more depth elsewhere. I suggest This Machine Kills Secrets by Andy Greenberg.