Today OR Books released Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet, a new title by WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange and fellow internet visionaries Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn, and Jérémie Zimmermann.
Cypherpunks comes roughly a year after the publication of Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Autobiography -- which erupted in controversy when the publishing company Canongate released a draft of the manuscript against Assange's wishes.
Cypherpunks are activists who promote the use of cryptography (writing in code) as a means of positive social change.
Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, has figured largely in the cypherpunk movement since the 1980s.
In Cypherpunks Assange characterizes cryptography as a high-tech extension of the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms in the U.S. Constitution. He states: "code-making, providing secret cryptographic codes that the government couldn't spy on, was in fact a munition ... The notion is that you cannot trust a government to implement the policies that it says that it is implementing, and so we must provide ... cryptographic tools that we control, as a sort of use of force, in that if the ciphers are good no matter how hard it tries a government cannot break into your communications directly."
Cypherpunks evolved from a whiskey-and-cigar-fueled interview that Assange conducted with his three co-authors for the eighth and ninth episodes of his TV show, "The World Tomorrow," which aired on RT in early 2012. However, according to Colin Robinson, co-publisher of OR Books, although the "World Tomorrow" discussions shaped the format of Cypherpunks, more than half of the book consists of new material.
In Cypherpunks the WikiLeaks founder and his co-authors discuss whether electronic communications will enslave humanity, or whether the public can combine activism, tech skills, and the internet to help guarantee individual freedoms. In other words, as Robinson asks, "how do you create an internet where secrecy by governments and powerful institutions is minimised and privacy for ordinary people is guaranteed?"
While debating this question, the four cypherpunks discuss the pervasive surveillance of internet users by Google, Facebook, and other corporations that track the most personal details of our lives; the extent to which the general public willingly participates in this mass surveillance; whether surveillance has validity in the context of crimes like pornography and terrorism; and other topics.
Assange has stated that the new book constitutes a response to his concerns about government surveillance and control of the internet. Noting that three of the Cypherpunks authors have come under the scrutiny of law enforcement agencies due to their activism, Assange explains:
"CYPHERPUNKS is not a political manifesto. There isn't time for that. It is instead an attempt to raise the alarm. Few have noticed but we now live in the once-imagined futures of our darkest science fiction. Technology we do not understand surrounds us. Without understanding it we are vulnerable in ways we cannot predict. ... The latter threatens the fabric of liberal democracy and the rule of law."
During a decade that has spawned widespread corporate and government digital surveillance, the prosecution and persecution of internet activists, the SOPA and ACTA bills, and proposed cybersecurity legislation, the publication of Cypherpunks comes at a time when society must decide whether the future will hold an internet that helps protect personal privacy and demands greater accountability from governments and corporations -- or an internet that these governments and corporations wield as a weapon in a war against transparency and individual privacy.
Since the 1980s WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange has helped lead the cypherpunk movement; he has also written many encryption and other software projects. In the 1990s he and Suelette Dreyfus co-authored the book Underground, a history of hacktivism. The 2012 movie Underground: The Julian Assange Story depicts Assange's teen years as a hacker in Australia.
In addition to helping to develop the Tor Project - a web anonymity tool that allows users to combat internet surveillance and censorship - Cypherpunks co-author Jacob Appelbaum is a research scientist at the University of Washington. Surveillance specialist and Cypherpunks co-author Andy Müller-Maguhn heads the Cryptophone company, which sells secure voice communication devices; he also belongs to Germany's Chaos Computer Club. Cypherpunks co-author Jérémie Zimmermann is co-founder and spokesman for the internet freedom and anonymity-rights organization La Quadrature du Net.