2013: One Era Ends, Another Begins

by Thomas Knapp

2013: One Era Ends, Another Begins

Well, we’re about to wrap up another year, so it’s time to throw out my dual nominations for “The Most Impactful Person of 2013.” The envelope, please? And the co-winners are …

Edward Snowden and Satoshi Nakamoto.

Edward Snowden, because in 2013 his revelations of evil hijinks by the US National Security Agency brought a final, crashing end to the era in which the politicians still believed they could keep secrets from the people.

Satoshi Nakamoto, because with the full-blown emergence and widespread adoption of Bitcoin in its fourth year of existence, he, she or they blew the trumpet on a new era in which the people started understanding that they can (and should) keep secrets from the politicians.

These two overlapping eras were actually a long time ending and beginning. The beginning of the former era’s end goes back at least as far as Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, and of course Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and others played large roles as well. Those last two in particular, operating through the transparency mechanisms of Wikileaks, brought down brutal regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, pulled back the curtain on US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in revealing US State Department peccadilloes, presaged Snowden’s exposure of the gangrenous nature of US surveillance and intelligence operations.

The new era’s beginning goes back at least as far as PGP, Phil Zimmerman and the cypherpunk/crypto-anarchist movements of the 1990s. “A cast of thousands,” so to speak. The Holy Grail of the information freedom movement — a state of affairs in which government is neither necessary to, nor can exercise effective control over, a thriving information economy — can now be seen above the horizon.

I certainly don’t want to downplay the contributions of all these past heroes (and current political prisoners like Manning and Ross Ulbricht), but the final end to one era, and the true bright dawn of the other, came in 2013, largely thanks to Snowden and Nakamoto.

I predict that 2014 will be the Year of the Great Discussion on Privacy. We at the Center for a Stateless Society will certainly participate in that discussion. But first, today, we pause for a moment to thank Edward Snowden, Satoshi Nakamoto and all their forebears and co-conspirators for making possible a discussion that can proceed un-controlled by politicians whose only concern is the preservation of their own power.

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  1. What an odd coincidence – this article (half Edward Snowden half Bitcoin) is the same as the typical “Keiser Report” show on Russian Television (for example the one this morning – but many other shows over the last year)

    I am not being sarcastic – I am not saying that Thomas has just ripped off Max Keiser for this article. There really are coincidences in the world – and this happens to be one of them.

    I am still waiting for Mr Snowden to tell us which American citizens have had their e.mails read (without a warrant) by the NSA – Mr Snowden is taking a long time to actually give some specific examples of this.

    There is also the question of why Mr Snowden (as a whistle blower) did not go straight to the relevant House and Senate Committees – or to a Senator (such as Rand Paul) or Congressman with a good record of standing up for the Fourth Amendment and Civil Liberties generally.

    It is possible that Mr Snowden just panicked – but going to the PRC and then to Mr Putin and the FSB was not exactly the most consistent thing he could have done (from a civil liberties point of view).

    There is also the question of why the New York Times (which lives by officially ordered leaks) was the place of choice for Mr Snowden’s stuff.

    It is very hard to believe that the NYT would publish anything that Obama Administration did not want published (as already said – the NYT lives by officially ordered leaks, without them it would go bankrupt).

    So this may be an internal power struggle within the government – with various factions fighting it out.

    Hard to tell for sure.

  2. As for Bitcoin.

    Well it is hard not to like what Dr Krugman (of the NYT) so hates.

    But I do have a few doubts.

    A currency must be a store-of-value (not just a medium of exchange) – economic value is indeed subjective, but that does not mean it can not be stored. Indeed that is the function of a currency – and commodities (such as gold and silver) have carried out this function for thousands of years.

    The commodity currencies described by Carl Menger have been replaced by government fiat currencies – based upon legal tender laws and tax demands (not a development I am happy with).

    But what is Bit “coin”? It is not a commodity currency (for all the talk of “precious numbers” and “mining”) and it is not backed by legal tender laws and tax demands either.

    So it is not a good currency (a commodity one) or a bad currency (a government one) – it is neither.

    “But it does not claim to be a currency Paul – it is a CRYPTO currency”.

    Yes – fair enough, I have certainly not claimed that there is any fraud involved (the people concerned are always careful to say that it is only a crypto currency – not a real one, not a store of value).

    It can still be useful – and in many ways.

  3. Brought down brutal regimes in Tunisia and Egypt?

    Well the regime in Egypt was brutal – although it is much worse now (so nothing to celebrate there – and the economy has collapsed with the poor being hurt the most).

    As for Tunisia – I thought the protest was about regulations demanding a license for selling fruit and veg? For the record I am totally against licensing – but I am unable to find out whether the licensing laws in Tunisia have actually been abolished.

    Then it turned out that the man who burned himself to death really wanted a “graduate job” (i.e. he did not want to sell fruit and veg at all – he wanted a job in the bureaucracy, which is what “graduate jobs” actually are in the Third World).

    I was not aware that even the BBC accused the (rather hopeless) Tunisian old regime of being particularly “brutal”? Surely their mistake was to expand government education (at great expense) thus producing lots of people who wanted “graduate jobs”?

    Certainly ordinary people were better off under the old regime (useless bunch of wild education spenders though they were) than they are now in Tunisia – but no one seems to care about that.

  4. On the “Arab Spring” generally there are two types of wrong headed observers.

    There is a small group of rather evil people who actually welcome the looting and violence – see, for example, Kevin Carson’s comments on Egypt made on this very blog.

    And there are larger group of people who are wrong headed but not actively evil, this larger group of people remind me of many “liberals” in relation to the Russian Revolution of 1917.

    They (the “liberals”) welcomed the Revolution – even after the October coup. They welcomed it because the old regime was bad and because they were in favour of “change” – without bothering their heads too much about what sort of “change” and whether the new regime would be better (or worse) than the old regime. Rather like the fools (assuming that Mr Snowden is a fool – not an officer of the FSB himself) who think that Mr Putin and the FSB (rather than the relevant committees of the House and Senate) are the correct people to be in a position of oversight over the NSA. Senator Rand Paul is the right sort of person to be given sensitive information – Mr Putin is the wrong sort of person. Or “anything the New York Times is happy about – is very unlikely to be a good thing”, As for whether President Obama (and his close allies) are really unhappy with the intelligence community being hung out to dry – well, I have my doubts about that.

    It was said of the “liberals” who welcomed the Marxist takeover of Russia (and so many other nations – down to various Latin American nations in our own time) that they “waved a senile hand of welcome at anything that called itself progress” – but that is a little unfair.

    It would be fairer to say that they were so obsessed with the bad in the existing situation that they never really asked themselves the hard question “is this a change for the better, or the worse?”.

    In nations such as Egypt it has certainly been a change for the worse.

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