Did Julian Assange Just Use the Bitcoin Blockchain to Prove He Is Alive?

Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, read yesterday the bitcoin blockchain hash of block 447506 during a recorded video. At the time, it represented the most recent bitcoin block published to the blockchain. Experts contend this is proof that Mr. Assange is alive – or at least that the video, in which the whistleblower appears uncoerced, was not pre-recorded.

Also Read: WikiLeaks Has Raised 4,000+ BTC Since 2011

Bitcoin’s Blockchain is Public and Immutable

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There had been some speculation that Mr. Assange was dead or lost control of his online identity. Instead of holding up today’s newspaper, as might have happened historically, the Australia-native used the blockchain technology to prove he is alive, contained at the Ecuadorian embassy. He referred to it as “proof of life.”

As a public cryptographic ledger, the bitcoin blockchain allows anyone to “mine” and add pieces of information (known as ‘blocks’) to the blockchain, but only upon completing a computer process known as “proof of work”.

Bitcoin’s hash algorithm, known as SHA256, scrambles data stored in the blocks (in the case of bitcoin, mostly transaction data) into a string of letters and numbers referred to as a hash. Knowing what data went into creating a hash is very hard. However, it is very easy to determine the hash of a particular piece of data.

A bitcoin block hash represents a random group of letters and number virtually impossible to predict. Once distributed via the blockchain, however, the hash is widely available and cannot be altered. By reading the most recently published block hash, Mr. Assange could prove today’s interview had not been pre-recorded.

Bitcoin Removes Financial Blockades

WikiLeaks June 14, 2011 Bitcoin Donations Announcement
WikiLeaks June 14, 2011, Bitcoin Donations Announcement

When WikiLeaks released a trove of U.S. diplomatic cables in November 2010, the non-profit lost access to the banking system on December 7, 2010. Since Bank of America, Visa, Mastercard and PayPal stopped serving Wikileaks, the group – known for aiding in the Chelsea Manning leaks – began accepting bitcoin.

WikiLeaks offers private bitcoin addresses for larger donations, so it’s tough to know how many bitcoins the service has received. Through 626 days of the financial blockade in August 2012, as reported by Jon Matonis for Forbes, Wikileaks had received (on just its public bitcoin address) more than $32,000 equivalent in over 1,100 separate bitcoin donations. 1BTC was worth $10 at that time.

As of November 30, 2016, WikiLeaks had raised 4,000 bitcoin since 2011. The address received its 4,000th bitcoin in December 2016. In September of 2014 during a Reddit AMA, Assange spoke highly of the bitcoin blockchain:

Bitcoin is an extremely important innovation, but not in the way most people think. Bitcoin’s real innovation is a globally verifiable proof of publishing at a certain time. The whole system is built on that concept and many other systems can also be built on it. The blockchain nails down history, breaking Orwell’s dictum of ‘He who controls the present controls the past and he who controls the past controls the future.

In his book, Mr. Assange allegedly details the process by which WikiLeaks came to accepting bitcoin donations, including discussions on forums with the pseudonymous founder of bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, who wrote:

The project needs to grow gradually so the software can be strengthened along the way. I make this appeal to WikiLeaks not to try to use bitcoin. Bitcoin is a small beta community in its infancy. You would not stand to get more than pocket change, and the heat you would bring would likely destroy us at this stage.

Indeed, WikiLeaks heeded the advice of Satoshi Nakamoto. Assange states that “WikiLeaks read and agreed with Satoshi’s analysis, and decided to put off the launch of a Bitcoin donation channel until the currency had become more established.”

Alive, Held Against his Will

During the interview recorded today, Mr. Assange did not seem to be under duress. He implored viewers, however, not to take this as a sign that everything’s coming up roses.

“Don’t take some cryptographic proof as evidence that I am OK,” Mr. Assange said. “I’m not, I have been held here for 8 years. I haven’t been OK the entire time.”

What do you think about Julian Assange’s ‘proof of life’ interview? Let us know in the comments below.


Images via Shutterstock, Twitter, and Pixabay.


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