Edward Snowden only agreed to appear in Zcash’s slick new promo video if the company made it clear that he wasn’t paid for his involvement with the crypto.
Snowden appears at the climax of the nine-minute video to confirm his participation in the Zcash cryptographic ceremony six years ago under the pseudonym ‘John Dobbertin.’
The film also confirms Snowden as the secret custodian of one-sixth of the privacy coin’s master key.
But the infamous whistleblower only allowed his involvement to be made public if Zcash programmer Zooko Wilcox hammered home the point that he wasn’t paid.
“As long as it is clear that I was never paid and had no stake, it was just a public interest thing, I think you can tell people,” Snowden wrote to Wilcox.
The day before filming, Wilcox, who is chief exec of Electric Coin Company, a major Zcash investor, had asked Snowden to break his silence.
Protos contacted Electric Coin, the firm behind Zcash, to find out why they decided to unveil Snowden’s involvement.
“This film was funded, produced, and distributed by a third-party independent studio,” said Chris Tomeo, head of growth marketing at Electric Coin in an email.
“I can only tell you that Snowden was not compensated for his help with the ceremony, and he hasn’t been affiliated with the Zcash project since,” he added.
Only five of the six participants had revealed their identities until this week; Bitcoin developer Peter Todd, cryptographer Andrew Miller, and Zooko Wilcox all publicised their involvement.
Snowden stays silent on Russia
Snowden’s last decade at odds with the United States government may have informed his decision to stay quiet until now.
- In June 2013, Snowden released thousands of US National Security Agency documents to journalists.
- The same month he arrived in Russia and was given temporary asylum.
- In 2020 Snowden was granted permanent residency in Russia.
Zcash’s blockchain was deployed in 2016 when the six portions of the master key were compiled. Each geographically-separated participant generated one piece of the key.
The logic is that anyone with all six segments would be able to mint unlimited (though fraudulent) Zcash tokens, and splitting the key reduces the likelihood of this. The film states that the cohort called each sixth of the master key ‘toxic waste’ and promised to dispose of it.
Snowden, who has been a permanent resident of Russia for the past two years, has remained noticeably quiet on the deadly invasion of Ukraine.
Not so private privacy coin
Indeed, Snowden’s newly promoted link to the project may be an attempt to assuage rifts in the Zcash community. Despite the pomp and ceremony around its ‘trusted setup,’ Zcash has been primarily rejected by privacy-focused cryptocurrency users.
The Electric Coin Company claims to have launched the “privacy-protecting, digital currency built on vanguard science,” (their emphasis). This was the main sell of Zcash; its zero-knowledge proofs claimed to obfuscate transaction data.
Those involved in deployment were trusted with wiping or destroying their devices that contained their slice of the master key. However, detractors protested that a six-strong ‘trusted setup’ group could be corrupted.
In 2017, a second ceremony was deemed necessary to ensure the purported privacy of transactions. The second ceremony included thousands of contributors in an effort to attest to the network’s privacy.
Zcash users were under the impression that enhanced cryptography shielded transactions on its blockchain. However, Chainalysis found that less than 1% of Zcash transactions were fully shielded.
Since an initial pump to over $1,300 shortly after launch in 2017, the crypto has settled at around $160. It represents a more than 700% drop in price.