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Cypherpunk Roots / Crypto in Society

This is a list of essays, articles, and posts about the implications of strong cryptography for society. Many were written decades ago, when cryptography was just starting to become widely available in mainstream systems.

An asterisk (*) indicates that the resource may be (lightly) technical.

The Crypto-Anarchist Manifesto (Timothy C. May, 1988)

  • A very short manifesto instrumental in kicking off the crypto-anarchist movement. Predicts many of the potential implications of strong cryptography becoming widely available.

True Nyms and Crypto Anarchy (Timothy C. May, 1996)

  • A longer essay by May on the potential social, political, and economic effects of cryptography.

Why I Wrote PGP (Philip Zimmermann, 1991 / updated 1999)

  • Originally written by Philip Zimmermann, the author of the PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) encryption program, during the Crypto Wars of the 90s. At the time, the US government was seeking to curtail the use of privacy-preserving technologies such as strong encryption.
  • Zimmermann addresses the "nothing to hide" argument with an argument for why privacy is a fundamental right, and outlines a strategy in which creating a norm of privacy for digital communications may prevent government overreach. This high-level strategy is still echoed in today's decentralized tech movements.
  • This essay inspired Zooko Wilcox to found ZCash, a cryptocurrency with strong privacy guarantees. Zooko's initial announcement of ZCash also makes a great case for privacy as a default.

The Idea of Smart Contracts (Nick Szabo, 1997)

  • Nick Szabo outlines the idea of arbitrarily programmable contracts realized via software.

*B-Money (Wei Dai, 1998)

  • An early attempt at a proposal for a Bitcoin-like system. Outlines the idea of proof-of-work and other core concepts eventually implemented in Bitcoin.
  • Question: Why is Wei Dai's B-Money proposal insufficient as "unstoppable digital cash?"

*Original mailing list posts by Satoshi Nakamoto (and responses here) (Satoshi Nakamoto, 2008)

  • Satoshi's original posts introducing Bitcoin on the Cryptography mailing list.

The Moral Character of Cryptographic Work (Philip Rogaway, 2015)

  • An argument that cryptography research and development should be considered more than just abstract theorizing.
  • "Cryptography rearranges power: it configures who can do what, from what. This makes cryptography an inherently political tool, and it confers on the field an intrinsically moral dimension... I plead for a reinvention of our disciplinary culture to attend not only to puzzles and math, but, also, to the societal implications of our work."