[part 3]

In the 1960's movie, "The Thomas Crown Affair," actor Steve McQueen plays a bored multi-millionaire who fights tedium by arranging well-planned high-yield bank robberies. He hires each of the robbers separately and anonymously, so that they can neither identify him or each other. They arrive at the bank on schedule, separately but simultaneously, complete the robbery, then separate forever. He pays each robber out of his own funds, so that the money cannot be traced, and he keeps the proceeds of each robbery.

In my recent essay generally titled "Digitaliberty," or earlier "Assassination politics," I hypothesized that it should be possible to LEGALLY set up an organization which collects perfectly anonymous donations sent by members of the public, donations which instruct the organization to pay the amount to any person who correctly guesses the date of death of some named person, for example some un-favorite government employee or officeholder. The organization would totalize the amounts of the donations for each different named person, and publish that list (presumably on the Internet) on a daily or perhaps even an hourly basis, telling the public exactly how much a person would get for "predicting" the death of that particular target.

Moreover, that organization would accept perfectly anonymous, untraceable, encrypted "predictions" by various means, such as the Internet (probably through chains of encrypted anonymous remailers), US mail, courier, or any number of other means. Those predictions would contain two parts: A small amount of untraceable "digital cash," inside the outer "digital envelope," to ensure that the "predictor" can't economically just randomly choose dates and names, and an inner encrypted data packet which is encrypted so that even the organization itself cannot decrypt it. That data packet would contain the name of the person whose death is predicted, and the date it is to happen.

This encrypted packet could also be published, still encrypted, on the Internet, so as to be able to prove to the world, later, that SOMEBODY made that prediction before it happened, and was willing to "put money on it" by including it in outside the inner encrypted "envelope." The "predictor" would always lose the outer digital cash; he would only earn the reward if his (still-secret) prediction later became true. If, later on, that prediction came true, the "lucky" predictor would transmit the decrypt key to the organization, untraceably, which would apply it to the encrypted packet, and discover that it works, and read the prediction made hours, days, weeks, or even months earlier. Only then would the organization, or for that matter anyone else except the predictor, know the person or the date named.

Also included in that inner encrypted digital "envelope" would be a public-key, generated by the predictor for only this particular purpose: It would not be his "normal" public key, obviously, because _that_ public key would be identifiable to him. Also present in this packet would be "blinded" (not yet certified as being good) "digital cash" codes, codes that would be presented to a certifying bank for their digital "stamp of approval," making them worth the dollars that the predictor has earned. (This presentation could be done indirectly, by an intermediary, to prevent a bank from being able to refuse to deal with the organization.)

Those "digital cash" codes will then be encrypted using the public key included with the original prediction, and published in a number of locations, perhaps on the Internet in a number of areas, and available by FTP to anyone who's interested. (It is assumed that this data will somehow get to the original predictor. Since it will get to "everyone" on the Internet, it will presumably be impossible to know where the predictor is.) Note, however, that only the person who sent the prediction (or somebody he's given the secret key to in the interim) can decrypt that message, and in any case only he, the person who prepared the digital cash blanks, can fully "unblind" the digital cash to make it spendable, yet absolutely untraceable. (For a much more complete explanation of how so-called "digital cash" works, I refer you to the August 1992 issue of Scientific American.)

This process sounds intricate, but it (and even some more detail I haven't described above) is all necessary to:

  1. Keep the donors, as well as the predictors, absolutely anonymous, not only to the public and each other, but also to the organization itself, either before or after the prediction comes true.
  2. Ensure that neither the organization, nor the donors, nor the public, is aware of the contents of the "prediction" unless and until it later becomes true. (This ensures that none of the other participants can be "guilty" of knowing this, before it happens.)
  3. Prove to the donors (including potential future predictors), the organization, and the public that indeed, somebody predicted a particular death on a particular date, before it actually happened.
  4. Prove to the donors and the public (including potential future predictors) that the amount of money promised was actually paid to whomever made the prediction that later came true. This is important, obviously, because you don't want any potential predictor to doubt whether he'll get the money if he makes a successful prediction, and you don't want any potential donor to doubt that his money is actually going to go to a successful predictor.
  5. Prevent the organization and the donors and the public from knowing, for sure, whether the predictor actually had anything to do with the death predicted. This is true even if (hypothetically) somebody is later caught and convicted of a murder, which was the subject of a successful "prediction": Even after identifying the murderer through other means, it will be impossible for anyone to know if the murderer and the predictor were the same person.
  6. Allow the predictor, if he so chooses, to "gift" the reward (possibly quite anonymously) to any other person, one perhaps totally unaware of the source of the money, without anyone else knowing of this.

Even the named "target" (the "victim") is also assured of something: He is assured that literally anyone in the world, from his worst enemy to his best friend, could make the amount of the reward, absolutely anonymously, should they "predict" his death correctly. At that point, he will have no friends.

This may represent the ultimate in compartmentalization of information: Nobody knows more than he needs to, to play his part in the whole arrangement. Nobody can turn anyone else in, or make a mistake that identifies the other participants. Yet everyone can verify that the "game" is played "fairly": The predictor gets his money, as the donors desire. Potential future predictors are satisfied (in a mathematically provable fashion) that all previous successful predictors were paid their full rewards, in a manner that can't possibly be traced. The members of the public are assured that, if they choose to make a donation, it will be used as promised.

This leads me to a bold assertion: I claim that, aside from the practical difficulty and perhaps, theoretical impossibility of identifying either the donors or the predictor, it is very likely that none of the participants, with the (understandable) hypothetical exception of a "predictor" who happens to know that he is also a murderer, could actually be considered "guilty" of any violation of black-letter law. Furthermore, none of the participants including the central organization is aware, either before or after the "prediction" comes true, that any other participant was actually in violation of any law, or for that matter would even know (except by watching the news) that any crime had actually been committed.

After all, the donors are merely offering gifts to a person who makes a successful prediction, not for any presumed responsibility in a killing, and the payment would occur even if no crime occurred. The organization is merely coordinating it all, but again isolating itself so that it cannot know from whom the money comes, or to whom the money eventually is given, or whether a crime was even committed. (Hypothetically, the "predictor" could actually be the "victim," who decides to kill himself and "predict" this, giving the proceeds of the reward to his chosen beneficiary, perhaps a relative or friend. Ironically, this might be the best revenge he can muster, "cheating the hangman," as it were.)

In fact, the organization could further shield itself by adopting a stated policy that no convicted (or, for that matter, even SUSPECTED) killers could receive the payment of a reward. However, since the recipient of the reward is by definition unidentified and untraceable even in theory, this would be a rather hollow assurance since it has no way to prevent such a payment from being made to someone responsible.

[end of part 3]

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