Crypto Anarchy, Cyberstates, and Pirate Utopias
edited by Peter Ludlow
MIT Press . 2001 . 451 pages . $60.00
Reviewed by Andrew P Morriss
This volume offers a wildly uneven array of original, revised, and reprinted writings on the broad topic of anarchy and the Internet. The 26 contributions are divided into five major sections covering: "The Sovereignty of Cyberspace," "Crypto Anarchy," "Shifting Borders," "The Emergence of Law and Governance Structures in Cyberspace," and "Utopia, Dystopia, and Pirate Utopias."
There are three reasons to read this book. The first is that it offers a wonderful window onto the evolution of thinking about the Internet. The "Crypto Anarchy" section, for example, includes Dorothy Denning's hyperbolic "The Future of Cryptography" from 1996, in which she denounces widely available crypto as unleashing a flood of child pornography and other ills; an excellent, point-by-point response to her piece by Duncan Frissell; and a new (1999) piece by Denning and a coauthor repeating the same sorts of arguments with updated hyperbole. Seeing these pieces juxtaposed should make anyone skeptical of claims that governments absolutely, positively must have access to everyone's communications just in case someone decides to do something bad.
The second reason to read the book is that it contains some marvelous documents and accounts of important events in the history of the Internet. Jennifer Mnookin's "Virtual(ly) Law" recounts some of the history of the famous LambdaMOO virtual space and its attempts to develop a legal system in cyberspace. Charles Stivale's "help manners" provides a fascinating counterpoint to some of Mnookin's factual claims. (Both, unfortunately, tend to be written for people already familiar with the issues they discuss and so a bit cryptic to outsiders.)
The third reason is that the book provides the answer to what socialists and statists think about the Internet. The last section on utopias and the concluding appendix, which contains an interview with Noam Chomsky, are filled with frustrated statist rantings along the lines of, "The nuclear family becomes more and more obviously a trap, a cultural sinkhole, a neurotic secret implosion of split atoms-and the obvious counterstrategy emerges spontaneously in the almost unconscious rediscovery of the more archaic and yet more post-industrial possibility of the band." There are also attacks on Thomas Jefferson for being a slave owner, corporations for being corporations, and Wired magazine for being written by and for white males. …