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2013

One Era Ends, Another Begins

by THOMAS L. KNAPP

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.

Thomas L. Knapp is Senior News Analyst at the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org).