As the rabble-rousing leader of the Cypherpunks, his writings foreshadowed concerns about privacy and government control and movements like WikiLeaks.
Timothy C. May, a physicist, polemicist and cantankerous advocate of internet privacy who helped start a movement aimed at protecting the privacy of individuals online, died on Dec. 13 at his home in Corralitos, Calif. He was 66.
The Santa Cruz County Sheriff-Coroner’s office confirmed his death but said that the cause had not yet been determined.
As the rabble-rousing leader of a group called the Cypherpunks, Mr. May, in his writings, foreshadowed and influenced many of the concerns about privacy and government control that have come to dominate the internet age.
In the one-page Crypto Anarchist Manifesto, which he wrote in 1988, Mr. May said, “Just as the technology of printing altered and reduced the power of medieval guilds and the social power structure, so too will cryptologic methods fundamentally alter the nature of corporations and of government interference in economic transactions.”
Much of Mr. May’s writing, incorporating elements of advanced math, libertarian politics and even science fiction, was circulated by the Cypherpunks, a group he co-founded with John Gilmore and Eric Hughes in 1992. It inspired later online movements like WikiLeaks and cryptocurrency technologies like Bitcoin.
In recent years, Mr. May’s legacy had been clouded by his frequent and unapologetically offensive statements in online forums. In 2003 he wrote that he would welcome a nuclear strike on Washington because it would kill “a million criminal politicians and two million inner-city welfare mutants.”
His friends said that his troublesome views were an outgrowth of the style that had made him so influential.
“He would try to get people’s attention by saying things in a deliberately confrontational way,” said Mr. Gilmore, who later co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights group.
Once he got someone’s attention, Mr. May was interested in having an honest conversation, Mr. Gilmore said. “He actually cared about the truth and about coming to understand things,” he said.
Timothy Christopher May was born on Dec. 21, 1951, in Bethesda, Md. His father, Thomas, was in the Navy, and the family moved frequently, to California, Virginia and France. His mother, Hazel (Heden) May, was a homemaker.