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We must defend our own privacy if we expect to have any. we’re going to write it.”Some are or were quite senior people at major hi-tech companies and others are well-known researchers (see list with affiliations below).The first mass media discussion of cypherpunks was in a 1993 Wired article by Steven Levy titled Crypto Rebels: The people in this room hope for a world where an individual’s informational footprints — everything from an opinion on abortion to the medical record of an actual abortion — can be traced only if the individual involved chooses to reveal them; a world where coherent messages shoot around the globe by network and microwave, but intruders and feds trying to pluck them out of the vapor find only gibberish; a world where the tools of prying are transformed into the instruments of privacy. The obstacles are political — some of the most powerful forces in government are devoted to the control of these tools.To some extent, the cryptography list acts as a successor to cypherpunks; it has many of the people and continues some of the same discussions.
May and John Gilmore founded a small group that met monthly at Gilmore’s company Cygnus Solutions in the San Francisco Bay Area, and was humorously termed cypherpunks by Jude Milhon at one of the first meetings – derived from cipher and cyberpunk. In November 2006, the word was added to the Oxford English Dictionary.The Cypherpunks mailing list was started in 1992, and by 1994 had 700 subscribers. At its peak, it was a very active forum with technical discussion ranging over mathematics, cryptography, computer science, political and philosophical discussion, personal arguments and attacks, etc., with some spam thrown in.
Some list participants were more radical on these issues than almost anyone else.
Those wishing to understand the context of the list might refer to the history of cryptography; in the early 1990s, the US government considered cryptography software a munition for export purposes, which hampered commercial deployment with no gain in national security, as knowledge and skill was not limited to US citizens.
The general attitude, though, definitely put personal privacy and personal liberty above all other considerations.
The list was discussing questions about privacy, government monitoring, corporate control of information, and related issues in the early 1990s that did not become major topics for broader discussion until ten years or so later.In its heyday, the list discussed public policy issues related to cryptography, as well as more practical nuts-and-bolts mathematical, computational, technological, and cryptographic matters.