Re: Is Anonymous E-Cash Dead?

Date: Sun Jul 16 2000 - 22:17:26 MDT

Paul Hughes writes:
> In the face of recent news, its sometimes hard to be optimistic.
> Whatever happened to private e-cash? You know, that thing that was
> promoted optimistically within extropian circles. It seems everyone who
> tried it folded up.

Yes, as mentioned the Chaum ecash experiment was not successful as
a business. There is a new effort,, which
purchased the patents and is trying again, this time in partnership with
Deutsche Bank 24, a subsidiary of the big German bank.

In addition,, a cypherpunk-founded privacy company
which is selling a strong anonymity communication product called Freedom,
recently licensed an alternate set of patents from Stefan Brands which
could be used for anonymous payment.

> Worse still, people like the Dept of the Treasury,
> IRS, World Bank and others are actively attempting to prohibit its use.

I don't believe this is true, in terms of the specific businesses
which are attempting to popularize these technologies. There are no
prohibitions that I am aware of against the Ecash Technologies payment

> But even it were legal, most organizations capable of implementing it
> have no interest in doing so - like Visa, MC, American Express. They
> would rather our transactions remain open to scrutiny for marketing
> purposes.

I believe they are responding to market pressures. Most people don't care
that much about having third parties have records of their transactions.
Note the popularity of merchant "preferred customer" cards which offer
discounts in return for tracking the purchasing behavior of the customers.

> Of course some people will say "Hey, now we have HavenCo". But just the
> other day, one of its chief engineers was barred from entering the UK.
> I'm not optimistic this company will last very long.

I too see HavenCo as a slim reed on which to hang our entire hopes
for freedom. At best it can be only a small part of a large picture.

> Maybe I'm missing the big picture here. Does anybody think overall
> individual liberty is increasing, particularly for US Citizens, or
> decreasing? Please be as specific as possible.

The trends you have identified do not actually represent a loss of
liberty. It is not the case that technologies which were widely used
for freedom have been shut down. Rather, preemptive steps are being
taken to maintain control and to close out some of the opportunities
which would have existed if no such steps were taken.

This represents a failure in previous prediction models, in that they
assumed a static, unresponsive opponent which would not be aware of the
changes and would just stand by while things happened. This is related
to the point I made recently, that in our own models of future changes,
whether in nanotech, ai or uploading, we must realize that these changes
will be fully anticipated by those who may oppose them. Those interests
will take whatever steps are available to them to attempt to control
what happens. Successful predictions will not assume the status quo.

Nevertheless the picture is not entirely bleak today. There are steps
forward; for example the continued liberalization of encryption policy
in the US over the last few years (a new relaxation is to be announced
tomorrow). Encryption technology is much more widely available than it
was a few years ago. (However it is still not used much.) Cypherpunks
are going commercial, as with the Zero Knowledge products,,
even HavenCo has a significant cypherpunk contribution.

As you move forward from potentiality into reality, inevitably some
possibilities are lost. E-cash will not happen in the way that it
might have been imagined ten years ago. However there are still paths
by which privacy can be achieved.


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