From an undisclosed location in Russia, former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden appeared at Bitcoin 2019, a two-day industry conference hosted by Bitcoin News in San Francisco on June 25-26. In a sweeping response to questions about privacy, cyber attacks, banking, regulators and Bitcoin, Snowden defines the existential threat to cryptocurrency and why privacy matters – whether or not someone has something to hide.
“We just saw Erik Voorhees on stage. He ran ShapeShift for a long time which was a very useful service. It let you go from one chain to another chain, from one token to another. And it was free. In terms of identification, you were able to openly transact. And then they completely changed their business model because they got, as I understand it, a demand letter from the government saying if you don’t start monitoring all of your customers, if you don’t start collecting passports, if you don’t start storing all of this stuff for our benefit, we’re going to … shut down your business…”
“This is the status quo. This is the way banking works.”
Snowden says Bitcoin is “free money” in terms of being able to use it. Users don’t need to sign off on a terms of service agreement and they’re not subject to the kind of corporate officials who have the power to kick someone out.
“You are able to exchange and interact permissionlessly. When I think about privacy, when I think about liberty, that’s what this is all about. What does liberty mean? It’s freedom from permission. It means we live our lives in a way that we can experiment. We can engage. We can try things. We can even fail. And we don’t have to get a permission slip from the principal’s office. We’re not watched. We’re not recorded. And because of this, our mistakes don’t harm us.
This core point, this ability to act without permission, as long as you’re not harming someone else … this is the foundation of all rights.”
“Here’s the thing: the lack of privacy is an existential threat to Bitcoin, and it’s an existential threat to the cryptocurrency space at large. The reason is privacy is the only protection that Bitcoin has for the users of it, people engaging in the ecosystem, to protect them from changes in the political winds of whatever jurisdiction they happen to be in.”
“Here’s the thing about privacy that people forget. If one of you gives it up, because you say, ‘It’s not useful for me,’ you’re taking it away from everybody else who doesn’t have that level of comfort, who doesn’t have that privilege. ‘Privacy is meaningless to me,’ but they live in China or they live in Russia or they live in Iran or they live in Venezuela where they are very much in a more vulnerable position or they may be tomorrow because the laws change every day.
And this is the thing about privacy that I think so many of us have forgotten, and why it is so important to defend. It doesn’t matter if you have nothing to hide, because privacy isn’t about something to hide. Privacy is about something to protect. And the thing that you’re protecting is a free, open society. The thing that you’re protecting is the right to act and to do and to try and be different. Because that’s how privacy protects. It protects the different people.”