Cypherpunks Write Code: John Gilmore and the Electronic Frontier Foundationby@obyte
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Cypherpunks Write Code: John Gilmore and the Electronic Frontier Foundation

by ObyteApril 1st, 2024
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John Gilmore is a pioneer in software development and cryptography, who made significant contributions that continue to shape the digital landscape.
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The famous cypherpunk mailing list from which Bitcoin (and other privacy tools) came was founded in late 1992 by the activists Eric Hughes, Tim May, and John Gilmore. However, this is far from being the only merit attributed to Gilmore. Indeed, while that specific mailing list isn’t active anymore, other important projects launched or supported by Gilmore are still around, always helping to keep our privacy and digital rights.

Born in 1955 in Pennsylvania (US), John Gilmore is a pioneer in software development and cryptography, who made significant contributions that continue to shape the digital landscape. Gilmore's journey as a programmer began in 1982 at Sun Microsystems (now Oracle), where he was the fifth employee.

He focused his efforts there on further developing Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD), an open-source operating system. In 1985, he also co-authored the Bootstrap Protocol, which evolved into DHCP, a fundamental mechanism for assigning IP addresses on networks. This essentially ensures that devices connected to a network can communicate with each other, forming the backbone of modern Internet connectivity.

Likewise, Gilmore is a frequent collaborator in free software and has been involved in various GNU projects. They include maintaining the GNU Debugger and initiating GNU Radio, demonstrating his commitment to fostering open-source solutions. Besides, his entrepreneurial spirit led him to found Cygnus Solutions in 1989. This was a company dedicated to supporting free software and was sold to Red Hat in 1999.

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

In 1990, Gilmore took another step to fight for privacy and freedom online. Along with John Perry Barlow (author of the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace), and Mitch Kapor (creator of Firefox), they founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). This is an NGO with a mission to safeguard online rights, whether it entails combatting mass surveillance or defending freedom of expression worldwide.

Not only do they advocate for these causes, but they also equip people with the requisite tools and insights to fortify their online defenses. Through legal advocacy, the EFF takes on cases involving privacy violations, government surveillance, and free speech issues. They also work to shape policies and legislation that protect digital rights, promote Internet freedom, and develop technologies to enhance online privacy and security.

One notable example is HTTPS Everywhere, a browser extension created in collaboration with the Tor Project. HTTPS Everywhere automatically switches websites from insecure HTTP to secure HTTPS, enhancing users' security and privacy while browsing the web.

Other significant EFF software projects are Privacy Badger, a browser extension designed to block online trackers and advertisements; and Let's Encrypt, a free, automated, and open certificate authority that enables website owners to obtain and install SSL/TLS certificates for secure HTTPS connections.

Cypherpunks and Activism

Gilmore didn’t create any form of digital money himself, but he supported the cypherpunks as a movement from the very beginning. The first physical meetings were held between Eric Hughes’s house and Cygnus Solutions headquarters in California, whereas the mailing list was originally hosted on, a domain owned and maintained by Gilmore. The mission of cypherpunks is protecting privacy and freedom by using cryptographic tools, something fully shared by Gilmore too:

“I want a guarantee—with physics and mathematics, not with laws—that we can give ourselves things like real privacy of personal communications. Encryption strong enough that even the NSA can’t break it.”

Additionally, Gilmore has been a vocal advocate for digital rights and civil liberties. He’s also been involved in the development of numerous software projects aimed at enhancing digital security and privacy, such as the creation of the FreeS/WAN project for IPsec encryption and sponsorship of the EFF's Deep Crack DES cracker. Both projects worked towards making digital communication more secure by either enhancing encryption standards or demonstrating weaknesses in existing ones.

Gilmore's commitment to promoting Internet freedom has also led him to support initiatives aimed at increasing transparency and accountability in government surveillance practices. He has been involved in legal battles challenging unconstitutional surveillance and censorship, demonstrating his dedication to defending civil liberties in the digital age.

A remarkable case was Gilmore v. Gonzales, where he challenged the requirement to show identification for domestic air travel, arguing it violated his constitutional rights to travel. He also objected to the lack of transparency regarding the directive mandating ID checks, which is fair: although the courts reviewed the Security Directive privately, its contents remain undisclosed to the public. This is deemed an unconstitutional “secret law.” Sadly, despite Gilmore's claims, the court ruled against him for now.

Against Censorship

Gilmore, as much as other cypherpunks, has a firm position against censorship. He’s still active in the fight for privacy by supporting projects like Freedom Box, a small device that works as an independent server to avoid surveillance; and Freedom of Movement, the legal battle against secret laws. For him, censorship is a social weakness, and it doesn’t offer any advantages.

“Censorship is a counterproductive social policy and weakens the national security, by suppressing the flow of useful information among the honest citizenry. Widespread use of encryption also enhances the national security, by making private information more truly private, and by making systems and networks harder for dishonest people to penetrate.”

In these days of censorship and surveillance, we need decentralized and privacy tools more than ever. Luckily, developers and activists like Gilmore keep working to deliver them free to use. One of them is the Obyte crypto network.

Obyte is structured as a Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG) to achieve consensus and record transactions. This decentralized approach ensures greater transparency, security, and resilience against censorship and surveillance. Its architecture enables peer-to-peer transactions without the need for intermediaries. Moreover, its open and permissionless nature fosters innovation, allowing developers to build decentralized applications (Dapps) and smart contracts on the platform.

Besides, relying on the Self-Sovereign ID features, users have the option to verify their personal information, such as their real name, while ensuring it remains securely stored in their wallet and nowhere else. This verified information can then be shared selectively with trusted parties, allowing others to check its authenticity using the Obyte DAG. Importantly, users retain full control over what information they share.

By decentralizing control and empowering users with sovereignty over their data and assets, Obyte paves the way for a more inclusive and equitable digital economy. Just like John Gilmore and other cypherpunks have dreamed of.

Read more from Cypherpunks Write Code series:

Tim May & Crypto-anarchism

Wei Dai & B-money

Nick Szabo & Smart Contracts

Adam Back & Hashcash

Eric Hughes & Remailer

St Jude & Community Memory

Hal Finney & RPOW

Featured Vector Image by Garry Killian / Freepik

John Gilmore Photograph by Joi Ito / Flickr