Cypherpunk Steve Schear: ‘Bitcoin Is a Viable Alternative to National Money’

March 2, 2017 - Bitcoin
Cypherpunk Steve Schear: ‘Bitcoin Is a Viable Alternative to National Money’


It has been said many times: the decentralized cryptocurrency bitcoin was born from the libertarian ideals of the cypherpunk movement. Just recently chatted with cypherpunk Steve Schear, interim Chief Operating Officer at Stash Crypto, to discuss the history of this movement and the emerging technologies pushing it forward.

Cypherpunks are activists who advocate the use of cryptographic technology to promote freedom and uproot social and political change. The movement began in the late 1980s as many activists communicated through the cypherpunks’ electronic mailing list. Schear gives our readers a glimpse into the early days of the cypherpunks, the birth of Bitcoin, and how he sees the cypherpunk movement evolving today.


‘Privacy is Necessary for an Open Society in the Electronic Age’ — The Cypherpunk Manifesto, Eric Hughes, 1993 (BC): How did you first get involved with the cypherpunk movement?

Cypherpunk Steve Schear: 'Bitcoin is a Viable Alternative to National Money'
Mondo 2000 was the cypherpunk/cyberpunk focused magazine and precursor to Wired.

Steve Schear (SS): In the early 1990s a workmate showed me an issue of Mondo 2000, the precursor of Wired magazine, edited by Jude Milhon (who coined the term “cypherpunk”). It opened up my world to cyber- and cypherpunk. A few years passed, and through a variety of coincidences, I found the cypherpunks list. My first physical meeting was at Eric Hughes’ home in Berkeley where I met some of the key Bay Area cypherpunks, including Jude and Tim May.

BC: When did you first discover Bitcoin?

SS: While in aerospace and later at Cylink, I became familiar with data security and cryptography. It was then, in the mid-1990s, I started thinking about commercializing some declassified military tech for secure communications and cash-like digital money.

Around the same time I connected up with the cypherpunks, I was introduced to Jon Matonis. We stayed in regular touch discussing political and tech topics. I knew of Bitcoin from lurking on Perry Metzger’s cryptography list, but had not heard it progressed from Satoshi’s specification to working code. Jon said he was moving his focus to Bitcoin and suggested I do likewise. I wish I had immediately followed his advice, but I was busy with a new job. It wasn’t until more than a year later I got serious about Bitcoin.

BC: After thirty years how do you see the cypherpunk movement today?

SS: I think it’s matured and much of it has become mainstream wisdom. Our early rants about government false-flags and intel agency monitoring are no longer considered tin-foil-hat delusions. Wikileaks, the alt-media and Snowden’s cache of documents have seen to that.

BC: There seems to be more people just coding rather than being very vocal, like cypherpunks such as Eric Hughes and Timothy C. May. Why do you think cypherpunks today are less vocal?

SS: Many early cypherpunks focused on identifying and understanding the social nature of privacy problems. They’ve already spent enough energy pontificating and now focus on implementing.

BC: Do you think some of the original cypherpunks have gone into hiding due to threats from government?  

SS: Very few. If you look at the noteworthy cypherpunks, it’s clear many are still heavily involved in this tech.

BC: Do you think Bitcoin is the counter-economic digital currency that will help promote economic freedom in the future?

SS: Bitcoin is already a viable alternative to national money and regulated banking in countries with weak central banks, abusive monetary policies or poor economic conditions.

It is serving as the inspiration or lynchpin for all manner of off-chain systems, digital currencies, financial services and innovative market experiments. I would not rule out it becoming at least a part of currency baskets some nations use for trade in the next ten years.

Cypherpunk Steve Schear: 'Bitcoin is a Viable Alternative to National Money'

BC: What other types of technologies do you see advancing to improve people’s freedoms?

SS: Covert communications:

Building on the ideas of Richard Feynman and Eric Drexler, Neil Stephenson’s prescient Diamond Age presents a future in which almost any inert item can be manufactured in the home using “matter compilers,” a super-empowered form of 3D-printing and precursor to Star Trek replicators.

Between covert communications for networking, DIY biology, Sonny and matter, an agoric reversal of dependence could very well occur and with it a decline of nationalism and a resurgence of individualism.

BC: Do you think the original goals (privacy, freedom of speech, economic sovereignty) of the cypherpunk movement will be achieved?

SS: I am hopeful, at least for those that care enough to fight for it and change their behaviors. ‘Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one,’ as Ben Franklin said.

Images courtesy of, Mondo 2000, Cassandra28 DeviantArt