I’m off today to Anguilla, a beautiful small island in the Carribean (near St. Maarten), where I’ll be attending the annual Financial Cryptography ’06 conference sponsored by the International Financial Cryptography Association. I attended the very first Financial Crypto conference ten years ago, and had a great time. Now I’ve been invited back for a tenth-year retrospective.
Yes, I hear you thinking, it’s a tough life being a law professor. But consider: it takes seven hours just to get to Anguilla from Miami. And the forecast is for pretty solid rain all week.
Even if it rains, it will be wonderful to see some people I’d lost touch with as crypto moved off the front burner of my academic writing. I used to write a lot about the regulation of cryptography, including The Metaphor is the Key: Cryptography, the Clipper Chip and the Constitution, 143 U. Penn. L. Rev. 709 (1995), Flood Control on the Information Ocean: Living With Anonymity, Digital Cash, and Distributed Databases, 15 U. Pitt. J. L. & Com. 395 (1996), It Came From Planet Clipper, 1996 U. Chi. L. Forum 15, and of course Digital Signatures Today in Financial Cryptography 287 (Rafael Hirschfeld ed., 1997) (Springer Lecture Notes in Computer Science vol. 1318), a write up of my talk at FC #1. Nowadays I write more about things that use crypto than about crypto itself.
Blogging may be quite light for the next few days. Meanwhile, to tide you over, here’s an abstract of the talk I’ll be giving, called “Are We All Cypherpunks Yet?”:
Ten years ago we said “cypherpunks write code”. Many, many lines of code later, cypherpunks often wear suits and answer to titles like Vice-President or CTO. The US has loosened its controls on crypto export, but we’re still waiting for a large scale deployment of digital cash. Tim May’s infopocalypse has yet to arrive, although his Four Horsemen, the “terrorists, child pornographers, money launderers, and drug dealers” have been joined by a powerful fifth entrant, the evil content pirate.
Ten years ago law enforcement was scrambling to catch up with new technology. Today they have their sights firmly on key physical, legal, and social chokepoints in the information infrastructure. And it remains true that from the point of view of intermediaries trying to acquire content, an encrypted message bearing value usually is indistinguishable from one carrying star warez, Star Wars™, or the plans for star wars, the weapon system. And strong end-to-end crypto still doesn’t come with Windows™.
Today, even if the details remain a little murky, we now know (instead of just fearing) that the NSA isn’t just spying outside the US — it’s spying on US citizens too. What is more, the current US administration asserts that its powers to eavesdrop exist independent not only of Congressional authorization, but Constitutionally superior to any Congressional effort to stop it.
Meanwhile the President of the Untied States asserts the authority to arrest anyone, anywhere (including domestically), to hold them for as long as he wishes, and — if they are non-US citizens captured abroad — to subject them to treatment most people would not hesitate to call torture. Here too, the administration sometimes suggests that its powers are plenary and subject to neither international law nor even Congressional diminution. Are we all cypherpunks yet? And is it too late to matter?