While Bitcoin was created by a pseudonymous individual or entity known as Satoshi Nakamoto, the vast majority of the developers working on Bitcoin Core, which is the reference implementation of the Bitcoin protocol, today are known by their real-world identities. Recently, the topic of pseudonymity in Bitcoin development was brought up in two separate discussions, namely the Bitcoin Milano Meetup and the Bitcoin development mailing list.
Christopher Allen Considers It a Legitimate Risk, Not Sure If He’s in Fear of It
At the recent Bitcoin Milano Meetup event, Blockstream Principal Architect Christopher Allen was asked by Giacomo Zucco, who is the CEO of BlockchainLab and one of the organizers of the Bitcoin Milano Meetup, for his thoughts on governments potentially targeting the developers behind Bitcoin and other systems.
“Obviously, I think a lot of people in my field are concerned that, since we are providing these fungible technologies [and] some of these other technologies, that, since they can’t get their thumbs on the individuals, they’ll start going after cryptographers and other people,” Allen said. “I don’t know if I’m actually in fear of it, but I consider it a legitimate risk, so I do things like turn off my laptop when I go through any airport.”
Allen added that he has gone as far as to create code words with at least one other developer who would then be able to secretly communicate to Allen that this other developer is being coerced into doing something against the security of the system he develops.
“Don’t know how real that is,” Allen added. “You know, part of the business of being in security is being just a little paranoid, so I don’t know how legitimate that is.”
Pseudonymous Developers in Bitcoin
Allen went on to explain that “there is some real power” in the use of pseudonymous identities. He then pointed to Satoshi Nakamoto and Tom Elvis Jedusor, who is the pseudonymous creator of MimbleWimble and took his name from the Harry Potter series, as two examples of the use of pseudonymous identities in the Bitcoin development community.
Allen also pointed out that Jedusor has established an initial reputation for himself. “He’s got a PGP key,” he noted. “He can, in the future, make other kinds of comments and do things [to] increase his reputation as anybody else can.”
Other examples of pseudonymous Bitcoin developers include btcdrak and shaolinfry, the latter of which first proposed the concept of a user-activated soft fork for Segregated Witness on the Bitcoin development mailing list.
Allen also noted that his own online history is pretty much public record, as he has blog posts going back roughly fifteen years and a Twitter account. “But that’s my choice,” Allen added. “And I want everybody… to have the choice to do that or do the opposite.”
Avoiding the Politicization of Technical Discussions
In addition to the prevention of government targeting, pseudonymous Bitcoin Improvement Proposals (BIPs) may also come with the advantage of avoiding the current political climate in the Bitcoin development community. This was a key point of SuredBits Co-Founder Chris Stewart’s recent suggestion on the Bitcoin development mailing list regarding a requirement of pseudonymity for new BIPs.
“This gives us a way to avoid politicization of BIPs,” Stewart wrote. “This means a BIP can be proposed and examined based on its technical merits. This levels the playing field – making the BIP process even more meritocratic than it already is.”