WikiLeaks’ Assange hypes bitcoin in secret talk

Dan Ilett
Apr 23, 2013 at 05:18 UTC
Updated Feb 4, 2019 at 22:03 UTC

What did WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange tell Google’s previous CEO Eric Schmidt about bitcoins?

Assange, the whistle-blowing media organization’s publisher, met with then-CEO Schmidt and Jared Cohen, advisor to former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in June 2011. The meeting was arranged at the request of Schmidt and Cohen, who were working on “The New Digital World,” a book set for publication this month.

WikiLeaks has now published a transcript of the secret meeting on its website.

The conversation turns to bitcoin after Schmidt and Assange had been discussing the distributed hash structure that makes it difficult to censor WikiLeaks’ online data.

“(Y)ou know about bitcoin?” Assange asks.

“No,” Schmidt responds.

“Okay, bitcoin is something that evolved out of the cypherpunks a couple of years ago, and it is an alternative … it is a stateless currency.”

“Yeah,” Cohen says. “I was reading about this just yesterday.”

“And very important, actually,” Assange continues. “It has a few problems. But its innovations exceed its problems.”

He goes on, “The bitcoin actually has the balance and incentives right, and that is why it is starting to take off … No central nodes. It is all point to point. One does not need to trust any central mint … The problems with traditional digital currencies on the internet is that you have to trust the mint not to print too much of it.”

As with gold, Assange continues, bitcoins have built-in scarcity (in the digital currency’s case, an upper limit of 21 million coins).

“That means that you should get into the bitcoin system now,” he tells Schmidt. “Early. You should be an early adopter. Because your bitcoins are going to be worth a lot of money one day.”

Assange adds that the bitcoin concept could also be applied to the internet’s DNS (domain name server) system as a way to protect information from control and censorship.

“So this bitcoin replacement for DNS is precisely what I wanted and what I was theorizing about, which is not a DNS system, but rather short names … ,” he says.

“So for example, the first amendment, that phrase, the ‘US first amendment’, is a very short phrase, but it expands to a longer bit of text. So you take the hash of this text, and now you have got something that is intrinsically coupled to that which is unmemorable. But then you can register ‘US First Amendment’ coupled to the hash. And that then means you have a structure where you can tell whether something has been published or unpublished, you can … one piece of human intellectual information can cite another one in a way that … can’t be manipulated, and if it is censored the censorship can be found out. And if one place is censored, well you can scour the entire world for this hash, and no matter where you find you know it is what you wanted precisely!”

Assange concludes, “So that, in theory, then permits human beings to build up an intellectual scaffold where every citation, every reference to some other part of human intellectual content, is precise, and can be discovered if it exists out there anywhere at all, and is not dependent on any particular organization. So as a way of publishing this seems to be the most censorship-resistant manner of publishing possible, because it is not dependent on any particular mechanism of publishing.”

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