It Just Felt Wrong
We cherish our right to speak freely, and our right to shut up. We've enshrined in our laws that we have a right to private communication and if the government wants access to our private speech they'd better have a pretty compelling reason.
Most Americans felt wronged when Edward Snowden dropped a dime on the NSA and revealed that they were routinely collecting our cellphone metadata and constructing a vast network of information about who called whom when and for how long. All this monitoring done on innocent citizens with no suspicion of wrongdoing.
Whether it was technically legal or not - it just felt wrong - a violation of a fundamental right.
Fast-forward five years and Snowden is living in exile in Russia, and talking about cryptocurrency. He was interviewed last week for the BlockStack Berlin conference by Peter Van Valkenburgh of CoinCenter, the same dude who gave the best-ever explanation of the nuanced difference between commodity-tokens and security-tokens to the Congressional Financial Services Committee.
He became famous by exposing US government hypocrisy in the violation of its own citizens' right to private communication. Now he's making a compelling argument for another hypocrisy in the form of crypto-regulation.
The (Weak) Case Against Crypto
If you let a crypto-hater get in even a few words, one of those words is practically guaranteed to be "laundering", and another to be "criminal". "Dark web" will probably find its way into the conversation, as well as "scam" and "bubble".
OK, fair enough, point taken. Cryptocurrency can be used for nefarious purposes, but so can dollars. In fact, 3 to 5 times the market cap of the entire crypto-verse is laundered in dollars worldwide every year. That means that if even 1% of crypto transactions were used for criminal activity (actual studies peg the number at less than that), it would still only represent a proverbial drop-in-the-bucket (less than 1/300th) compared to the almighty dollar - which is clearly still the money launderer's currency of choice.
The question is not "do you have a right to do something if that right can, in any edge-case, possibly be abused?" ... I think there's a presumption there that we do not have a right to engage in private trade.
- Edward Snowden, former NSA contractor and whistleblower-in-exile
Layers of Hypocrisy
So why all the hate directed at crypto.? Two reasons. It's easy to target the new kid, because he's different. Also, politicians need cover, a distraction, when they can't get a handle on a problem - like the fact that the US reserve currency is used to fund the vast majority of criminal activity worldwide.
What's fascinating about Snowden's interview for the Berlin conference is that the man who exposed the hypocrisy of the world's most powerful government regarding its own citizens' right to private communication, is now exposing another hypocrisy in the form of crypto-regulation.
The First Database
According to Snowden, money was the first database, so it's use naturally emerged as the first tool for government to monitor and control its citizens. The government justifies this control with the deceptively simple argument that since money can be used for evil, it's the government's job to monitor its use and protect its citizens. But does this argument withstand logical scrutiny?
Not So Much
According to Snowden, not so much. After all, speech can be used to cause harm. It can be used to plan and carry out criminal activity. But even if the government wants to monitor our speech - they need to show a compelling reason. There is a presumption that we have a right to private communication.
Snowden argues that trade is just another form of communication. Just because it can be used for ill should not lead to the presumption that all transactions should be under government control by default. In fact, Snowden argues that we should completely rethink that presumption.
If there is a right to private trade at all, he argues, then the default mode ought to be government out of our wallets unless they have a compelling reason to be there.
Images via Shutterstock, Video clips via Youtube