Even though the government is a tiny minority of any population, those who recognize that the state is, at its core, a criminal organization are fewer still. It is difficult for these enlightened individuals to fight the state directly, either by fisticuffs or in the realm of public opinion. Crypto-anarchy is the practical response of anarchists in the digital age.
Crypto-anarchy seeks three things. The first is to protect privacy by limiting the capacity of the state to spy on private communications. The second is to avoid censorship by creating tools for individuals to communicate, even when the government tries to shut them down. In other words, crypto-anarchists believe that people should be free to express themselves publicly without censorship as well as privately without eavesdropping. Finally, the third thing that crypto-anarchy seeks is to allow people to freely trade goods and services in spite of government interference.
One basic thing that everyone can do is to install the HTTPS Everwhere extension in their web browser. This simple extension automatically tries to use encrypted connections to the websites that a person visits, making it more difficult for others to see what information they are sending and receiving.
Another tool that people can use to protect themselves from government spying is Tor. Tor is a program that makes it more difficult to track what someone is doing online by routing traffic through a series of relays. That way, even if the government is watching someone, it cannot easily determine what that person is looking at. On the other hand, if the government is watching a particular website, it cannot easily determine who is connecting to that website. Tor offers another interesting feature which allows people to publish websites anonymously, making it even more difficult for state agents to interfere with what they are doing.
These hidden services have helped with another important aspect of crypto-anarchy, which is the free association of people to trade goods and services. Tor hidden services, combined with crypto-currencies, allow people to buy, sell and trade online in a way that is more difficult for the government to stop. The technology is not perfect, as shown by the tragic downfall of the marketplace Silk Road, but it still gives an option for those who wish to engage in counter-economics and agorism.
As dangerous as governments are, even with their huge sums of stolen money it is difficult for states to track everything everyone is doing all of the time. Of course, tracking one person is relatively easy, so the best thing to do is avoid scrutiny. One way to do this is to use a technique called steganography.
Steganography is the science of hiding information in such a way that it does not attract attention. An early example of this is when the greek tyrant Histiaeus shaved a slave’s head, tattooed a message and then allow the slave’s hair to grow back. The message was then hidden in a way that would look perfectly normal. More modern techniques include encoding text messages within digital images and hiding voice messages in audio files.
Of course, the lengths to which someone goes to protect himself depends on his individual circumstances. Activists in countries with extensive Internet censorship might only need one particular techniques to get their message past passive filters. Leaders of anti-government groups might prefer to use a variety of techniques to mitigate active targeting. Regardless, the philosophy and practical applications of crypto-anarchy are perfectly aligned with hard core libertarian philosophy. They also provide a relatively safe way to fight back against the state.