The word anarchy stems from the Greek word “anarchos”, which means “without ruler.” For some, the term “anarchy” draws associations with lawless states of chaos from the past. However, the term in its contemporary sense is used to refer to a vision of society that is absent of unjust hierarchy and coercion. One of the key concepts within the contemporary anarchist vision is that people are, by nature, equal to one another, and should be free to live in ways that reflect this equality. Anarchists respect all individuals who develop skills and knowledge bases that have beneficial applications.
In the internet’s early days, it was structured more in accordance with anarchist ideals, offering users privacy and a less hierarchical experience. Today, the internet is dominated by government and Big Tech players that have eroded personal autonomy and transparency.
Everyone has a fundamental right to privacy. These days, pushing back against the tide of insidious data collection and online privacy infringements requires the deployment of anarchist-inspired notions of self-determination and privacy as freedom. Wrenching some sovereignty back from overreaching companies, organizations, and government agencies is feasible with the help of privacy-minded tools and strategies. Let’s take a closer look at how digital initiatives that promote greater freedom and autonomy are embracing anarchist principles.
What is Crypto-Anarchy?
The internet is at the root of how many people organize their lives. For this reason, most contemporary discussion of personal freedoms tends to be centered around the right to digital privacy.
The prefix “crypto” is often used negatively to refer to groups who have hidden motives or views. For instance, the term “crypto-fascist” refers to those with fascist views who hide their fascism in order to avoid stigma or consequences. On the other hand, the “crypto” prefix used in the term “crypto-anarchy” refers to strategies for cultivating autonomy that make use of cryptography tools.
As such, while crypto-anarchy is rooted in strategies that foster privacy and anonymity, these goals themselves are not obscured by crypto-anarchists. In fact, many crypto-anarchists are actively involved in promoting the importance and value of digital cryptography tools.
Historically, anarchism itself has been associated with left-wing thought, and anarchy’s aversion to hierarchical structures draws associations to communalism and libertarian socialism. However, crypto-anarchy today has links to anarcho-capitalism, too—a right-libertarian political philosophy centered around ownership of private property absent of centralized control.
Anarcho-capitalism calls for a voluntary society that individuals design themselves with the help of private agencies; in an ideal anarcho-capitalist society, individuals would voluntarily opt into contracts of participation designed to fulfill the will of the people.
Anarchy and Privacy
Anarchist thought is largely centered around skepticism towards coercion from intrusive governing forces. Personal privacy is widely regarded as an inalienable right. For instance, the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights states: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence.”
Freedom of thought, freedom of association, freedom of expression, and freedom from discrimination are all rooted in the individual’s right to create boundaries and to choose what to reveal and what to hide from others. Actions as simple and intuitive as putting on clothing or closing the bathroom door are rooted in our implicit understanding that there are aspects of ourselves we prefer not to share with others, for a number of reasons.
As individuals, we make countless decisions about our privacy every day. Insisting that our privacy is not violated without consent is an important way we protect ourselves from abuses of power. However, the ever-increasing role of technology in our lives has blurred our relationship to privacy. While we would naturally feel skeptical of anyone eavesdropping on our conversations, going through our mail, or searching our homes without a warrant, digital surveillance has created a panopticon effect in which it’s nearly impossible to tell who is collecting information about us, and for what purpose.
Crypto-anarchist tools offer users renewed awareness and control over what information they are sharing with external parties, which is an important step in eradicating privacy intrusions.
A History of Bitcoin’s Relationship to Anarchy
The principles that led to the development of Bitcoin are the result of a deep and sustained engagement with anarchist ideals. The original development of this technology can be traced to the Cyperpunks’ mailing list from the early 1990s—a virtual meeting place of early digital privacy enthusiasts.
The Cypherpunks are an example of a digital voluntary society. Many Cypherpunks communicated anonymously by way of aliases, and used cryptographic tools both as a matter of principle—believing in online anonymity as a path towards greater online freedom—and to seize the potential of the power of cryptography as a path towards decentralized and uncoerced economic transactions, for instance.
Challenges Facing Bitcoin’s Role as a Privacy Tool
Bitcoin is a decentralized digital currency. All transactions are permanently recorded and stored on the blockchain without the need for regulatory forces or third-party verification. These are essential aspects of its potential as an empowering and privacy-minded digital currency. However, these characteristics also require additional tools and strategies to ensure its capacity to maximize privacy and personal freedom.
Many newcomers to Bitcoin see it as a short-term investment vehicle, primarily focused on fluctuations in the price of bitcoin rather than the revolutionary potential behind decentralized money. Novice users may leave their bitcoin exchanges, which essentially negates the freedom-related benefits of Bitcoin.
Most popular cryptocurrency exchanges are centralized (CEXs), meaning third parties have control and oversight over users’ funds. The well-known expression “not your keys, not your coins” refers to the fact that those who have access to bitcoin assets’ private keys (CEXs) ultimately have control over the assets.
When users put their private keys in the hands of others, this is an aspect of their privacy (and freedom) that they are giving away in exchange for convenience.
The pitfalls of CEXs go beyond the privacy-related issue of private key ownership, too. Major crypto exchange hacks have occurred in the past, resulting in users losing their bitcoin. Some bitcoin exchanges, including Quadriga, have been outright scams, defrauding users of their money.
One of Bitcoin’s most integral features is how it offers users the ability to have custody of their own assets, without fear of outside interference. An understanding of the fundamental principles of Bitcoin and the history of its development is an important aspect of learning how to use it as a defensive privacy tool.
Defensive Tools to Establish Personal Privacy
Those with limited familiarity with Bitcoin often presume it to be an anonymous currency, but the opposite is true. Bitcoin operates under principles of transparency, which allow all transactions on the blockchain to be publicly viewed and verified.
Users’ public keys can be linked to past transactions, which can be linked to users’ personal identities through Know Your Customer (KYC) policies. KYC requires that merchants collect data about their customers. For instance, if you use Bitcoin to purchase an item from a website, that website may collect your address and other information, creating a link between that information and your Bitcoin address. Users’ IP addresses can also be linked to Bitcoin transactions, leading some users to enlist services that hide their IP addresses.
New tools have been emerging that seek to improve Bitcoin’s privacy in order to give users more control over how personal data is shared. Coinjoin is one popular anonymizing strategy for Bitcoin. Coinjoin works by allowing users to temporarily join their funds together, acting as a kind of opaque wall between previous and future transactions.
Additionally, privacy experts tend to recommend privacy-minded internet browsers to make bitcoin-related activity less publicly viewable. Tor’s browser is a well-established anonymizing tool. Its free browser gives users the ability to mask their web activity from outside parties using multi-layered encryption. When it comes to communicating about cryptocurrency transactions, experts recommend end-to-end encrypted messaging services like Signal.
Privacy-minded digital wallets are an effective way to maintain control over your bitcoin and to address the privacy concerns inherent to Bitcoin. Wasabi Wallet 2.0 is a privacy-focused bitcoin wallet that is user-friendly and offers a shortcut to the privacy-enhancing benefits of Bitcoin as a tool for crypto-anarchists.
Wasabi Wallet is a zero-knowledge tool, which means its developers collect no information about users. Making use of the Tor network, block filtering, and coinjoin technology, Wasabi Wallet 2.0 is trust free. It is also a non-custodial wallet, giving users control over their own private keys, offering the full self-determining potential of Bitcoin.
Wasabi Wallet as a Defensive Technology
Without access to the right tools, protecting oneself from insidious surveillance and data collection can feel overwhelming. Across the internet, privacy and security issues are widespread, and many web-based services are oppressively hierarchical, offering little to no independence and freedom for users.
According to one study from the Pew Research Centre, four in five Americans feel they have little to no control over how their data is viewed and collected online, and around the same number believe the pitfalls of this digital surveillance outweigh any benefits. The same study shows that well over half of Americans are concerned about digital surveillance.
Those interested in preserving their privacy online have rightfully gravitated towards Bitcoin and the crypto sphere, which has a history rooted in strong-willed individualism in the face of intrusion from overbearing institutions. While some people associate the term “anarchy” with the avoidance of rules or consequences, the opposite is true—crypto-anarchist ideals are centered around transparency, equality, and fairness for all. Privacy is a key component of personal freedom, and tools like Wasabi Wallet help users defend their individual online property rights as part of a path toward a more liberated life.