Alex Gladstein, chief strategy officer at the Human Rights Foundation, is warning Americans about the narrative coming from media outlets reporting on crypto and other privacy tools.
In an article for Time Magazine published today, Gladstein said that many news outlets covering stories about privacy-focused messaging app Signal or Bitcoin (BTC) tended to associate them with terrorists or criminal organizations. The Human Rights Foundation exec pushed back on narratives which paint privacy and self-sovereignty in a negative light, saying the next fight would be moving into money — in this case, cryptocurrencies.
“Authorities will blame extremism not just on Signal and Telegram, but also on Bitcoin and anything they can’t control,” said Gladstein.
“Bitcoin is neutral like cash, and can’t discriminate between good and bad [...] Some extremists use these tools. They also use mobile phones, email, and the internet.”
Gladstein claimed financial privacy was just as essential to a healthy democractic state as privacy in communication tools. He highlighted how young pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong used cash instead of credit cards to travel to demonstrations so the authorities would have a more difficult time tracking them.
Meanwhile, government officials in Belarus, Russia, and Nigeria have been able to “monitor and freeze bank accounts” for anyone associated with similar movements. In these cases, many pro-democracy groups and individuals were able to use crypto to circumvent these measures and still get funding. For example, a Ukraine-based crypto exchange refused to comply with an official request from Belarus’ Department of Financial Investigations to provide personal information about individuals who could potentially be labeled as dissidents.
“Most Americans may not yet grasp that financial privacy is just as important as communications privacy for our democracy — that your spending habits say more about you than your words,” said Gladstein. “In an open society, the ability to buy political books, have discreet medical procedures, and build communities without government surveillance is essential.“
The Human Rights Foundation exec warned that turning away from financial tools like Bitcoin could potentially lead to a bigger police state in the U.S. fueled by “mass surveillance to fight extremism.”
Whether this narrative will change under the administration of new U.S. President Joe Biden is unclear. Many in the crypto space are seemingly bullish about Biden's choice to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, former Commodity Futures Trading Commission chair Gary Gensler. Janet Yellen, confirmed as Treasury Secretary in the U.S. Senate yesterday, has said that cryptocurrencies are "mainly for illicit financing," but she planned to encourage their use for “legitimate activities.”