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From Crossbows To Cryptography: Techno-Thwarting The State

• Nakamoto Institute


From CrossbowsTo Cryptography:

Techno-Thwarting The State

Chuck Hammill

Future  ofFreedom Conference, November1987

You know, technology?"and particularly computer technology?"has often  gotten  a bad rap in Libertarian circles. We tend to think  of Or- well's 1984, or Terry Gilliam's Brazil, or the proximity detectors keep- ing East Berlin's  slave/citizens on their own side of the border, or the sophisticated  bugging devices Nixon used to harass those on his "ene- mieslist." Or, we recognize that for the price of a ticket on the Concorde we can fly at twice the speed of sound, but only if we first walk through a magnetometer  run by a government  policeman,  and permit him to paw through  our belongings if it beeps.

But  I think  that mind-setisa  mistake.   Before there were cattleprods, governments tortured their prisoners with clubs and rubber hoses. Before there were lasers for eavesdropping, governments used binoculars and lip-readers.  Thoughgovernment certainly uses tech-

nology to oppress, the evil lies not in the tools but in the wielder of the tools.

In  fact, technology represents one of the most promisingavenues available for re-capturing our freedoms from those who have stolen them. By its  very nature, it favors the bright (who can put it to use) over the dull (who cannot).  It favors the adaptable (who are quick to see the merit of the new) over the sluggish (who cling to time-tested ways).  And what two better words are there to describe government bureaucracy than "dull" and "sluggish"?

One of the clearest, classic triumphs  of technology over tyranny I see is the invention of the man-portable crossbow. With it, an untrained peasant could now reliably and lethally engage a target  out to fifty me- ters ?" even if that target were a mounted, chain-mailed knight.

Unlike the longbow, which, admittedly was more powerful, and could get off more shots per unit  time, the crossbow required no formal training to utilize.  Whereas the longbow required  elaborate visual, tactile and kinesthetic coordination to achieve any degree of accuracy, the wielder of a crossbow  could simply put the weapon to his shoulder, sight along the arrow itself, and be reasonably assured of hitting his target.

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