Cryptography developed as a means to provide everyone privacy and anonymity on the internet and was quickly taken up by individuals, like Ulbricht, who felt that there was too much state intervention.
Interestingly, it is actually the actions of the FBI, in relation to the arrest of Ross Ulbricht, which have really spurred on the development of cryptography. It is claimed that Ulbricht was discovered through the finding of servers, based in Iceland, which resulted in the confiscation of their information. Little to nothing has been released surrounding how the FBI acquired the information and location of these servers. Instead, many believe that the FBI used hacking techniques to discover this information, as the FBI’s story doesn’t seem to fit with the evidence and also explains why it has been so secretive. It appears that the FBI is prosecuting people for hacking through hacking. In light of this, many cryptographers have been developing software for everyday use which can withstand government surveillance.
“It seems that governments are doing all they can to resist increased anonymity for the individual on the internet.”
It is now 2020 and almost 10 years since cryptography began to take off with Bitcoin. We can see that the need to secure anonymity on the internet has increased. However, anonymity appears to be taken at a price, either of the price of individuals or illegal activities. It seems that governments are doing all they can to resist increased anonymity for the individual on the internet. This could be through basic regulation, such as the European Union’s fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive (5MALD), in which a registration process that verified basic personal details was established, making it almost impossible to buy cryptocurrencies anonymously. Or resistance appears in more extreme forms, such as through government surveillance, which has been highlighted by the Snowden leaks and the Ulbricht Trial. What can be said for the future is that cryptography looks set to make the rules of how we interact with the internet, whether that is a direct consequence of creating anonymity or an indirect consequence of widespread regulation and surveillance.
First published February 2020. Volume 15, Issue 2. “Cryptography Acrylic”, by Lauren Ross