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Dark Wallet Is Here to Return Bitcoin to Its Radical Roots

Cody Wilson has turned his libertarian gaze to cryptocurrency.

Image: Antana/Flickr

Cody Wilson's idea that technology can and should be used to democratize power is what led to the somewhat terrifying specter of fully functional guns we can print in our living rooms. Over the last few months, Wilson has turned his anarchic gaze to Bitcoin, with Dark Wallet, an anonymous virtual wallet designed to return cryptocurrency to its cypherpunk roots.

We wrote about Dark Wallet when the idea was first announced last fall, and now the software is available to download.

Dark Wallet is an open-source browser plug-in designed to be easy for average consumers to use. Like other Bitcoin wallets, it lets users store, send, and receive coins, but it adds extra protections to make sure those transactions are secure, anonymous, and difficult to trace.

It safeguards these protections with a combination of encryption and a 'CoinJoin' protocol that mixes users' coins together before encoding it into the ledger—a similar concept to routing web traffic through Tor's onion network to make it hard to track.

Dark Wallet addresses Bitcoin purists's fear that virtual currency is being usurped by the establishment, stymied by government regulations, and swallowed up by the capitalist ecosystem. Motherboard's UK editor Vicki Turk talked to Wilson about the project at last year's Bitcoin Expo in London, where he explained that Dark Wallet is a way to fight back against “what Bitcoin has been allowed to become."

Wilson wants to drive the virtual currency deeper into the underbelly of the web where it's free from the clutches of government regulations and law enforcement. The value of cryptocurrency isn't as a marketing ploy or to shave a few bucks off transaction fees, he argues; it's a political statement—a radical and revolutionary tool.

"Bitcoin is the next battleground in the fight against supranational political domination," states the Indiegogo campaign page, which reached its $50,000 funding goal in December. "Digital anonymity and freedom of financial speech are some of the last tools left in the dwindling garrisons of Liberty."

But, that's Wilson talking, and his ideals, though certainly shared by some, exist in the more radical periphery of the hacker mindset. If you parse Satoshi Nakamoto's online comments from when he first created the Bitcoin protocol, you can tell he certainly meant for it to a subversive political tool, but not explicitly as an anarchist weapon; his philosophy appears to be a bit less extreme than Wilson's.

"[Bitcoin is] very attractive to the libertarian viewpoint if we can explain it properly," Nakamoto wrote on a forum. But in musing about how best to write a description for Bitcoin he wrote, "We don't want to lead with 'anonymous.'"

He also commented that, "'The developers expect that this will result in a … currency outside the reach of any government.'—I am definitely not making an such taunt or assertion."

The company Wilson founded to pursue Dark Wallet, UnSystem, is making that assertion, and it does want to lead with anonymity. Of course, that means it'll also help return Bitcoin to its more nefarious roots, namely as an excellent way to buy drugs and other black market contraband without being detected by the police.

"For all the talk of bitcoin being untraceable, it’s actually pretty easy for cops to figure out who is spending what unless suspects take very technical precautions. Wilson seeks to change that by making it easier for non-techies to have an anonymous currency online," the Wall Street Journal reported.

In various interviews with the press, Wilson has freely admitted he wants Dark Wallet to help protect online black marketplaces like Silk Road, even that will include atrocities like murder-for-hire and child pornography along with the more innocuous crimes like buying drugs online. 

“Liberty is a dangerous thing,” he said.