Weed As Surprise Driver For Mass Cryptoproficiency

Close up of marijuana leaf

Ever since the e-mail encryption PGP was created, civil liberties activists have wondered how to get people in general to care about cryptography and protecting their rights on the net. What would make them care? The answer appears to come from a totally unexpected direction.

A marketplace called Silk Road has been making headlines lately. It is a marketplace for plants and plant parts; plants that are banned, but that people still want to acquire, and quite frequently do.

Previously, there has been no real use case for learning cryptography and anonymity for the average citizen. Yeah, we send mail. Yeah, somebody may read it. So what, sort of. Installing Tor? PGP? What’s that? Too cumbersome. NERDY! Won’t bother.

Cryptography and cipherproficiency has been limited to a small technically and mathematically interested subgroup who sees quite clearly how this technology and these skills are necessary to safeguard civil liberties against governments, but getting it to the masses just hasn’t happened. There hasn’t been a reason to do so. Until now.

Silk Road is only accessible through Tor, an anonymizing subnetwork on the net that people in Egypt used during the insurrection, and which makes the person using it practically impossible to track. (Install from here.) It routes the connection through a number of random connections throughout the world. And the only way to pay is with bitcoin, the anonymous regulation-defying cryptocurrency. The Gawker story tells us about a person who bought something and got it in the mail four days later. “It felt like I was in the future”, he is quoted as saying.

So finally, bloody finally, there is a reason for the masses you wouldn’t otherwise reach to learn anonymization and cryptocurrency. Weed. It might not be the most academic of reasons, but that’s the whole point: academic reasons don’t appeal to the masses. In order to change somebody’s behavior, they need a reason to do so. Here’s one. Safely anonymous mail-order cannabis.

Screenshot from Silk Road.

This means that when cannabis users and the people around them really need anonymization later on, they will already know how to do it. That’s great. Absolutely fantastic. I had been hoping that a mechanism like this would appear that would educate the broad masses in how they protect their most basic liberties, but I had never expected weed to be the driver.

We need mass cryptoproficiency to justly keep secrets from rightshostile politicians.

It’s great that we finally have a driver for mass adoption of cryptography and anonymization to people that would otherwise never learn how to protect themselves. But let’s take a look at this from a more philosophical perspective — why is this so appealing to the masses, anyway?

Some people want to buy, other people want to sell, government is using harsh violence to prevent these voluntary free-market transactions. Not for medical reasons, but for political reasons. It is quite reasonable to ask if this law is just; the door to freedom in the form of Tor and other cryptography has been praised by governments in the West when net activists under other governments use it, such as under Mubarak in Egypt. I think the governments here in the West are about to discover that the door to freedom swings both wayscode trumps law and people will defy unjust laws everywhere.

Wake up and smell the coffee, sort of. (Which has been, I may add, banned in several countries — Germany, Sweden, Turkey, England, etc. If it sounds silly to ban the coffee plant and its beans, which it certainly does, then there’s a foretaste for you right there of what the history books will say of the current era.)

As an ending note: it’s a plant. People are being put in jail and their lives ruined for having the wrong kind of plant. A frakking vegetable. I didn’t realize just how political this Dilbert strip was eight years ago, but apparently Scott Adams has a bit of a knack for stating the obvious before most other people.

Dilbert.comDilbert.com
Images embedded from Dilbert.com with permission from United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot.

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  1. #cryptolove RT @Falkvinge on #infopolicy: Weed As Surprise Driver For Mass Cryptoproficiency http://goo.gl/fb/P9s8t

  2. StatSpotting

    Would you be on the same side even if this was an arms marketplace?

    1. Travis McCrea

      Crypto isn’t good or evil — it’s simply a tool. Are you against people using knives because some bad people have stabbed other people with them?

    2. Scary Devil Monastery

      Anyone with basic skills in metalworking and a workbench has no problems whatsoever in creating a fully functional firearm. Even if you don’t possess such skills you can just mailorder single parts from wherever.

      A case such as this was created in Sweden recently where a gunsmith had mass-ordered single parts neither of which could be recognizeable to be a part of a functional weapon until assembled. How do you prevent this? You don’t.

      Nearly every tool ever invented is dual use. And as long as a tool has any valid purpose at all it should definitely stay legal.

    3. Jeff

      “right of the people to keep and bear Arms” mean anything to you? I should be able to possess anything which would potentially be used against me if War were to come to my doorstep.

  3. Travis McCrea

    While I personally love this direction, I don’t know if that’s what we want to be the big thing that privacy is used for. I think that’s actually the big label that we are constantly trying to avoid “why are you using so much privacy if you have nothing to hide”. This is just one more case where we are using these privacy tools to actually do something we are trying to hide.

    I am very unique within our community, I don’t download movies or music, I only use free software (not even flash), the biggest things I would want to protect such as my subversive writings are already in queue on this website and my blog. So I have no NEED to keep anything private, but I still sign my emails and encrypt them when I can because I just like having privacy.

    Anyone who argues against privacy is basically saying that they would be okay going to the bathroom in the middle of time square in a glass box (thanks Doctorow).

    That being said, as long as people are learning about the technology, I am happy. I don’t care how they learn about it.

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      Your final paragraph is key to my message. I am happy that people are finding reasons to pick up ways to protect their rights.

  4. Falkvinge on Infopolicy: Weed As Surprise Driver For Mass Cryptoproficiency:
    Ever since the e-mail encryp… http://tinyurl.com/3cb9jtr

  5. Weed As Surprise Driver For Mass Cryptoproficiency http://bit.ly/lTorU8

  6. Weed As Surprise Driver For Mass Cryptoproficiency http://is.gd/YEYTDF #bitcoin #pgp

  7. "Lawful access", eat your heart out! RT @kotarski: Weed As Surprise Driver For Mass Cryptoproficiency http://is.gd/YEYTDF #bitcoin #pgp

  8. Per "Wertigon" Ekström

    I really don’t think weed is so spread out as you seem to believe. I personally know of only two people that do weeds, out of hundreds.

    But, while this is not the mass adoption you’re looking for, it is an example of a group of non-technical people going the last mile to understand cryptography, and that is a great thing.

    1. George Venter

      You must roll in very conservative crowds.

      1. ANNM

        Haha!

    2. Don Kongo

      Try saying that you do weed yourself and see how that ratio changes. I would argue that in Sweden, which I assume you are from, it’s the other way around – weed is probably much more spread out than you seem to believe.

      But then again, this is all just anecdotal on both our parts, I’ll just say this: as soon as a group of people realize that (as in my case) you don’t do it yourself but don’t care that others do, the talk about it and even appearance of the joint at party explodes exponentially.

      You have to realize that it’s still illegal, and still a social stigmata, so don’t be surprised if your tow-to-hundreds is actually scores-to-hundreds, not that use on a regular basis perhaps, but has and could think to do it again.

      It’s becoming a really really common drug in Sweden, and in other countries such as the US it has been a very common drug of choice for many many years.

  9. BlueTemplar

    Why is it surprising? It was obvious that Bitcoin would be used for (small) black market transactions. As it is obvious that it will soon be outlawed by at least several big countries…

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      How are you going to legislate it? As in, how are you going to define it in legislation?

      This is people talking mathematics with one another. How are you going to ban that?

      1. ANNM

        If they can outlaw sharing of copyrighted files, which also is “people talking mathematics with one another”, I don’t think they’ll have any problem with BitCoin.

  10. Ploum

    I would have assumed that porn would be the first market for bitcoin/cryptography. It looks like I was wrong 😉

    1. Scary Devil Monastery

      Yes, i must admit it’s the first time i’ve observed rule 34 taking a beating. And by weed at that.

      What a letdown. :)

      1. Per "Wertigon" Ekström

        Perhaps it is time to rewrite the rule to “If it exists, and no porn exists, then there will be weed”?

    2. Fredrik

      Like all things that can be file-shared without payment, porn has no market. Porn needs no market. :)

  11. Raki

    Bitcoin is not as anonymous as you would hope.

    http://techliberation.com/2011/06/03/bitcoin-silk-road-and-lulzsec-oh-my/
    ->
    Update: Jeff Garzik, a member of the Bitcoin core development team, says in an email that bitcoin is not as anonymous as the denizens of Silk Road would like to believe. He explains that because all Bitcoin transactions are recorded in a public log, though the identities of all the parties are anonymous, law enforcement could use sophisticated network analysis techniques to parse the transaction flow and track down individual Bitcoin users.

    “Attempting major illicit transactions with bitcoin, given existing statistical analysis techniques deployed in the field by law enforcement, is pretty damned dumb,” he says.

    1. Jas

      When I saw him say that on CBS, I thought he was just trying to present a respectable face to the establishment and not scare little old ladies and religious freaks who might add to the scare campaign against Bitcoin. Tor might be vulnerable to a group like the NSA but I think any target they go after would have to be of the highest priority for them to go to the effort of picking them out of the Tor network. On the other hand, Bitcoin is completely safe if the funds are laundered properly. Garzik knows all of this of course. I’m glad he and Andresen have been taking the mild-mannered and reasonable seeming approach they have so far as Bitcoin spokesmen. The last thing Bitcoin needs is advocacy by Ayn Rand fans or “smash the state!” style anarchists. Those people are guaranteed to get civilians offside with Bitcoin. Governments will start moving against Bitcoin eventually and the longer we can stall them, the stronger the infrastructure will be when they begin doing things like closing exchanges or subjecting Bitcoin users to extra audits.

  12. Weed As Surprise Driver For Mass Cryptoproficiency – Falkvinge on …: And the only way to pay is with … http://bit.ly/mhbmEW #bitcoin

  13. Weed As Surprise Driver For Mass Cryptoproficiency http://bit.ly/mCFQOJ

  14. Kuidas kanep tavainimeste krüptograafiaoskusi treenib: http://bit.ly/j0PVPz

  15. Putte

    Two US senators want to ban Bitcoin, (Already!):

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/06/08/bitcoin_under_attack/

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      That’s fascinating. I think they’re about to discover the other side of globalization.

      So they want to ban Silk Road. Fine. Let them do that. Why would US laws apply to Silk Road? How would anybody even find out what country it is operating from?

      Welcome to globalization, citizens’ flavor.

      1. Elmo

        US laws apply to the US. By operating multiple TOR exit nodes it is possible to attack the anonymity of certain TOR operations. My knowledge of these matters is not sufficient to be able to tell whether this means that the origin of Silk Road could potentially be found out, but it should enable them to find out individual users. Apart from this, they could act as users themselves (enticing someone else to commit a crime should be illegal in any decent state, but the US authorities have received a lot of leeway recently, again I am not quite sure about the details).

        The article mentions taking action against Bitcoin as well, which would presumably be easier than shutting down Silk Road. The network may be p2p, but the transaction services are not. Could anyone explain to me whether this weakness would be a viable point of attack for the authorities?

        “Since there’s no authentication when sending to an IP address (as opposed to a Bitcoin address), executing a man-in-the-middle attack and stealing the sent BitCoins is trivial. This attack is downright likely if you’re using Tor.”

  16. Simon

    The DEA may place a couple of orders and then back-track to find the source. Customs in most countries will surely be helpful, and post offices is probably tracking all post. So if they just do their job, bitcoin have no need to be shut down. It can even be a catalyst in smoking out distribution networks. (The real drug problems are in the suburbs, but don’t count on any democratically elected official to spend efforts on loosing votes there.)

  17. Geek am I (@geekami)

    Weed As Surprise Driver For Mass Cryptoproficiency #geek http://bit.ly/mTCB2M

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