2001 September 12

An Open Letter on Privacy and Anonymity

Fellow Citizens of the United States of America:

I am moved to write as a founder of a movement that, far beyond my own efforts, has eloquently expressed an ideal, the ideal of privacy in society. Privacy is not uniquely American, yet it is at the core of the American ideal, at the core of free speech that enables human connection, at the core of free association that builds society up from a savage state, at the core of liberty. I helped to start cypherpunks, a movement for privacy in the digital world. Cypherpunks is a diverse movement with no explicit doctrine, yet with a deep shared desire for human liberty.

Let none who call me friend say that the events of September 11 are anything other than a dark day upon humanity. In the midst of the violence, I see a thirst for the taste of the blood of vengeance in the mouths of many of my fellow citizens. I see that destruction will ineluctably ride upon the opponents of the country of these my fellow citizens. So be it. I do not seek here to forestall or to avoid the violence directed toward the perpetrators of these deeds.

I write as a citizen of the United States that our country may avoid a self-inflicted wound against liberty. The terrorists have struck a blow against liberty, it is said. The terrorists will strike again, it is said. I say to all, let us not strike the second blow against ourselves. Today we are seeking an enemy unknown, an enemy who is hiding, as well they ought to. The thirst that drives our country forward now cannot be slaked without the apprehension of those responsible, and we have yet to identify or find them. We now have a great temptation before us, to lash out at those amongst ourselves who may be thought to have given succor to our enemies, at those amongst ourselves who may be thought to still provide them solace and deception, and at those amongst ourselves whom some dislike for unrelated reasons.

I wish to repeat again the words of Governor Davis of California, who spoke yesterday that "we are all Americans." We are all Americans, and we should not attack ourselves. We are all Americans, and we should not fight each other in the streets. We are all Americans, and we should not turn our law enforcement apparatus and our national security infrastructure against the very liberties that we all hold dear. The goal of these terrorists is to restrict freedoms in America, to steal its essence and to weaken it. I shall pray we do not cooperate with this their goal in a hot-headed rush to immediate results. Let the anger of this country be cold and calmly directed, that the accompaniment of wrath be precision.

The terrorists are cowards, it is said. Shall America be a coward to itself? We have an excess of strength to expend upon our opponents, be they external or internal. We will find that there are internal champions of liberty that have without conspiracy or knowledge furthered the plans of our opponents, who have taken advantage of the liberties that America offers all who enter her shores. Many of these champions I know personally, because cypherpunks have enabled liberty on-line to all takers, without discrimination and without distinction. Let the prevailing wrath be directed not against those to promote liberty, but those who consciously seek to destroy it.

We need not curtail our liberty in order to save it. The message is seductive that we may more effectively fight for liberty if we limit our freedoms for a time whose end has yet to be announced. Yet this is not the message of America, but of several of its vanquished enemies. For liberty is not fair-weather clothing that may only be worn when the weather is good. Liberty is rather the jewel in the locket, the most prized possession short of family and life itself. We diminish ourselves if we rationalize our freedom away in an evanescent fog of rhetoric about efficiency. Liberty is not efficient; it is expensive and tortuous, and as an American people we desire it before most everything else.

As we enter a new century, let us demonstrate the true strength of an open society -- that it can withstand the threat of demagoguery even as it remains a powerful actor against an external threat. This is the ideal that our strength may manifest, that a democracy may express its power as a democracy itself, and not as a police state masquerading as one.

I stand with the Federal Congress and sing "America, my home, sweet home." For I live upon this land and soil, with other people who have set their lives along the course of freedom. I pray that we may all pass through this dark time with the dignity of our own ideals intact, that we may pass through to the other side with renewed vigor to pursue the cause of freedom over all the earth. My heart grieves with those who have lost, yet it also rejoices that we might yet undergo this ordeal as a country and emerge stronger and more faithful to our own nature.

May peace be with you all, with the fullness of your existence in tow.

Eric Hughes

[Please feel free to post this at will.]

Page first created Tuesday, September 18, 2001
Page last modified Tuesday, September 18, 2001 6:40 PM
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