Chelsea Manning’s reluctant return to crypto and renewed passion for privacy

It’s a sign of the times that government secrecy is not a priority for American activist and whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

“We’re actually so inundated with information now that secrecy isn’t the issue anymore,” she said. “It’s a verification.”

She spoke to Decrypt during a video call in June about his security work at Web3 privacy project Nym and what brought her, somewhat reluctantly, back into the world of crypto.

Manning became synonymous with open government when she gave classified documents – 250,000 US diplomatic cables and 480,000 military reports from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – to WikiLeaks in 2010. It was, and it is still, the largest intelligence leak in US history.

In the aftermath, she was court-martialed and served seven years of a 35-year prison sentence before it was commuted by President Barack Obama in 2017. Before her sentence was commuted, Manning, a transgender woman, was incarcerated in a military center for men. Fort Leavenworth prison in Kansas.

The day she spoke with DecryptIt has been a week since UK Home Secretary Priti Patel approved the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States. There he would face charges under the Espionage Act for his role in releasing the documents he received from Manning in 2010.

Manning has made it clear that his court martial prevents him from commenting directly on Assange’s extradition. But she said the protracted nature of cases like hers has helped her focus on creating tools to help people maintain their privacy.

“I want to make sure that cases that will last 12, 15 years don’t happen again in the future,” she said. “That’s why I’m a big believer in these kinds of tools and technology. There are pitfalls of not having this kind of technology.

When she spoke to Decrypt on June 24, it had been hours since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. With this, the court eliminated the constitutional right to abortion and laid the groundwork for bans in as many 17 states.

The implication of these prohibitions became a very timely example of how people could use a decentralized mixnet like Nym.

Manning explained that someone outside of the state of Texas, where an abortion ban has gone into effect, might hypothetically want to offer advice to Texas residents on how and where to safely have the procedure. security.

To be clear, this is now illegal in some jurisdictions.

The potential assistant risks being identified by law enforcement through their Internet metadata. The metadata, although it does not include the content of emails or other messages, could be used to show where the person lives or when and how often they have been in contact with someone in Texas.

A Nym graphic describes how a mixnet differs from VPNs and privacy browsers like Tor. 1 credit

To protect themselves, they could use a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, to route their Internet data through an encrypted server. That person could also be using something like Tor, a browser that acts like a supercharged VPN by sending data through three different encrypted servers on the way to its destination.

It is difficult, but not impossible, for the encrypted data to be decrypted. This is where a mixnet, like Nym, comes in, Manning said.

It disaggregates metadata elements, such as a person’s IP address or the recipient of a message, and mixes them with other metadata. The resulting encrypted data packets combine the IP addresses, time, date, and location metadata of many different people.

This only works if enough node operators participate, separating and remixing the metadata packets. Otherwise, it’s like trying to hide in a crowd of just a few people.

This is where the NYM token comes into play. Much like other decentralized public blockchains, a native token is how Nym incentivizes its users to run nodes and participate in the network. Manning has no control over NYM’s tokenomics, but she has worked hard to emphasize the importance of the network being both large and decentralized.

“The decentralized network part is necessary and required to have a mixed network,” Manning said. “In order to have the required number of nodes running on the network with sufficient traffic flow to provide privacy protections on the mixed network, you need to incentivize people to run those nodes and incentivize people to commit.”

Manning’s role in the project was two-fold: as a security expert, she sought to resolve hardware issues that hampered network growth, especially in rural areas where Internet access is limited. She has also used her connections in the security community to bring privacy advocates back to crypto.

When crypto became short for cryptocurrency instead of cryptography, many stalwarts of the community, including itself, took a step back. It’s a consequence of investors introducing what she calls the “new rich yuppie culture.”

“People laugh, but I lost whole Bitcoins of information that I pulled from a MacBook Pro. So I was very early in that process,” Manning said. “And I walked away from it. – i mean, obviously i was in jail for a long period of time – but even after that i kind of walked away from it because i realized that there are a lot of people who don’t understand necessarily the technical aspects of this or the security and privacy implications.

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