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Edward Snowden Revealed As Secret Participant in the Ceremony That Launched a $2 Billion Private Cryptocurrency NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is revealed to be John Dobbertin, the mysterious sixth participant in the ceremony that created the private cryptocurrency Zcash.

By Madeline Garfinkle

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

John Dobbertin, the anonymous member of the original group that carried out Zcash's trusted set-up process, was revealed to be notorious NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden — confirmed by Snowden himself in a nine-minute video released by Zcash Media.

Zcash is a privacy preserving cryptocurrency that allows users to create end-to-end encrypted transactions that hides all information as the currency changes hands — but it wasn't always so simple.

Related: It's Time to Learn About Cryptocurrency and Bitcoin

When developers at Electric Coin Company set out to create Zcash, they had to ensure users would trust the cryptographic structure. The problem is, if the individual who created that structure kept the key used to generate it, it would give them the power to counterfeit the currency. Developers then created a special key to lock the code that runs the currency, and with the code locked, no one can generate any counterfeit transactions. The catch? Users would have to trust that the developer destroyed their copy of the key.

So, where does Edward Snowden come in?

To ensure safety, the founders enacted a multi-person trusted set-up process — which became known as "the ceremony"— where instead of one person having the key, there would be six. It included developers, one bitcoin hacker, an information security consultant and Snowden as Dobbertin. As long as one of the six destroyed their key, Zcash would be safe and launched successfully.

Two years after the successful launch in 2016, Electric Coin Company wanted to upgrade the currency, so it carried out the ceremony again. This time, it involved not only the original six members, but hundreds of individuals. And yet, despite the two successful ceremonies, users didn't trust the so-called trusted set-up — until 2019. Sean Bowe, an Electric Coin Company engineer, made a historic breakthrough that would solve a long-standing problem in cryptography. He found a way to bypass the need for a trusted set-up, and with no set-up, the biggest risk to counterfeiting the currency would be eliminated.

Related: 5 Things to Know Before You Invest in Cryptocurrency

"There will be no more questions on how you set it up because there is no set up, it's just pure math," says Zooko Wilcox, CEO of Electric Coin Company, in the video. The company called the new upgrade Halo.

In the final minutes of the video, Wilcox reads a response from Dobbertin to an email wherein Wilcox reiterated he would maintain the anonymity of Dobbertin's participation in the ceremony until he said it was okay to share it. "As long as it's clear I was never paid and had no stake, it was just a public interest thing, I think you can tell people," Wilcox reads to the camera, and then asks, "Are you ready?"

Snowden is revealed in the final two minutes of the short film, and is asked who he is and why he participated in the ceremony.

"I thought it was a very interesting project, because when we look at cryptocurrencies in general, we generally see the cryptographic properties of it being used to make sure it's a fair ledger, but not that it's been used to ensure it's a private ledger," Snowden says. "The problem with that is that you can't truly have free trade unless you have private trade, and you can't have a free society without free trade."

In his final parting words, Snowden expresses excitement for the improvements made and the implications it has in moving forward to a more free and private currency.

Related: Become an Expert Crypto Trader with These Courses

Madeline Garfinkle

News Writer

Madeline Garfinkle is a News Writer at She is a graduate from Syracuse University, and received an MFA from Columbia University. 

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