George Orwell’s 1984 portrays a dystopian future where Big Brother is everywhere. The society is controlled as there is no privacy – cameras can follow you everywhere and your news is edited to ensure you praise the leader and the State.
Orwell is often referred to when people discuss the Snowden documents or the proposed regulations in China whereby citizens are soon to be given a social credit score in 2020. To maintain their control, the State limits one’s freedom and attempts to know as much about its citizens as possible.
Many of us are aware that our online presence is being tracked by most websites, but as many of us in the Western world move towards a cashless society, our spending habits are also closely monitored. The cashless society is a rather new phenomenon. Before, cash was king. The issue for those in power is that cash is much harder to track. If I don’t have access to an offshore bank account but want to keep my purchases secret, be they legal or illegal, then cash is the way to go.
Criticism of privacy coins is common and is usually the same as the criticism aimed at Bitcoin – that they are only used for drugs or money laundering. Whilst both are possible, I believe there is still a case for privacy in finance. With Bitcoin, you can remain pseudonymous but not anonymous. Therefore, it is possible to track where people are sending their money.
Is privacy a right of citizens?
The battle over privacy continues between governments and citizens. For the government, preventing terrorist attacks through snooping is their aim. Encryption and privacy are, according to governments, tools that prevent the government from stopping such attacks. For privacy campaigners, there are many arguments they pursue. Firstly, allowing citizens privacy limits the State power. The Gestapo and Stasi were both examples of totalitarian States exercising far too much control. Privacy allows for freedom of association, in particular to political activities. Other benefits include the trust it shows between a government and its citizens.
Whilst terrorists may use privacy for their activities, many innocent people do to. Is it right to ban or limit privacy for the extremely small section of society that abuses it? Personally, as a law abiding citizen, I do not want the option of privacy-enabled digital transactions to commit illegal activity. Rather, I believe that it is an element of trust that is required from the State to its citizens. I am innocent, therefore should not be treated automatically like I am guilty.
As citizens, there are certain State secrets we are not allowed to know about due to security concerns. When the Snowden documents were released, a lot of the criticism directed towards Edward Snowden was in relation to the notion that he had put many people’s lives at risk. Whether this was the case is certainly questionable. The hypocrisy lies within the military industrial complex that many Western States have accumulated. Weapons are sold to Saudi Arabia (and many other questionable regimes) at an alarming rate. This is despite protests over the war in Yemen and its tragic consequences. On top of this, the recent scandal whereby journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered allegedly on the orders of the Crown Prince has done little to diminish such trends.
Typically, it is one rule for those in charge and another for the plebs.
Privacy has decreased
One argument formulated by governments is that the internet has created more channels for private communication. This is a twisting of facts and words. What has actually happened is that the possibility for snooping has dramatically increased thanks to the connectivity of modern society through such tools as the internet. Like a child with a bowlful of sweets, the State cannot resist diving in. Yes, encryption techniques have advanced, but the majority of the public either do not have the technical skills to use such techniques or choose not to anyway.
Before the rise of credit/debit cards and the internet, snooping on people’s telephone calls or cash transactions was much more difficult. Whilst encryption techniques have improved thanks to academics and the rise of computers, it is naive to believe that both the NSA and GCHQ are not at the forefront of such technologies. The San Bernardino case highlighted this. When the perpetrator’s iPhone was confiscated by the FBI, an ongoing debate ensued between them and Apple. Apple were refusing to provide the encryption code necessary for the FBI. The scandal ultimately resulted in Apple staying strong, until it was revealed that the FBI has the technical know-how to unlock the phone anyway. The whole charade was to try and ensnare corporations to hand over private data to the government in an easier fashion.
Privacy coins such as Monero are not the only cryptocurrencies looking at increasing privacy. The Lightning Network is hoping to increase privacy with Bitcoin as well. The consistent criticism they continue to receive is fair enough. However, I still maintain that I have a right to private communication and private transactions, and there is little the mainstream media or government can do to change my mind.