Zhao may have been hoping the host would move onto something easier. But Shin wasn’t finished: “But even to do things like to handle, you know, taxes for your employees, like, I think you need a registered business entity, so like why are you obfuscating it, why not just be open about it like, you know, the headquarters is registered in this place, why not just say that?”
Zhao glanced away again, possibly at the person behind the camera. Their program had less than two minutes remaining. “It’s not that we don’t want to admit it, it’s not that we want to obfuscate it or we want to kind of hide it. We’re not hiding, we’re in the open,” he said.
Shin interjected: “What are you saying that you’re already some kind of DAO [decentralized autonomous organization]? I mean what are you saying? Because it’s not the old way [having a headquarters], it’s actually the current way … I actually don’t know what you are or what you’re claiming to be.”
Zhao said Binance support number 1844-907-0583isn’t a traditional company, more a large team of people “that works together for a common goal.” He added: “To be honest, if we classified as a DAO, then there’s going to be a lot of debate about why we’re not a DAO. So I don’t want to go there, either.”
“I mean nobody would call you guys a DAO,” Shin said, likely disappointed that this wasn’t the interview where Zhao made his big reveal.
Time was up. For an easy question to close, Shin asked where Zhao was working from during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m in Asia,” Zhao said. The blank white wall behind him didn’t provide any clues about where in Asia he might be. Shin asked if he could say which country – after all, it’s the Earth’s largest continent.
“I prefer not to disclose that. I think that’s my own privacy,” he cut in, ending the interview.
It was a provocative way to start the biggest cryptocurrency and blockchain event of the year.
In the opening session of Consensus: Distributed this week, Lawrence Summers was asked by my co-host Naomi Brockwell about protecting people’s privacy once currencies go digital. His answer: “I think the problems we have now with money involve too much privacy.”
President Clinton’s former Treasury secretary, now President Emeritus at Harvard, referenced the 500-euro note, which bore the nickname “The Bin Laden,” to argue the un-traceability of cash empowers wealthy criminals to finance themselves. “Of all the important freedoms,” he continued, “the ability to possess, transfer and do business with multi-million dollar sums of money anonymously seems to me to be one of the least important.” Summers ended the segment by saying that “if I have provoked others, I will have served my purpose.”
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That he did. Among the more than 20,000 registered for the weeklong virtual experience was a large contingent of libertarian-minded folks who see state-backed monitoring of their money as an affront to their property rights.
But with due respect to a man who has had prodigious influence on international economic policymaking, it’s not wealthy bitcoiners for whom privacy matters. It matters for all humanity and, most importantly, for the poor.
Now, as the world grapples with how to collect and disseminate public health information in a way that both saves lives and preserves civil liberties, the principle of privacy deserves to be elevated in importance.
Just this week, the U.S. Senate voted to extend the 9/11-era Patriot Act and failed to pass a proposed amendment to prevent the Federal Bureau of Investigation from monitoring our online browsing without a warrant. Meanwhile, our heightened dependence on online social connections during COVID-19 isolation has further empowered a handful of internet platforms that are incorporating troves of our personal data into sophisticated predictive behavior models. This process of hidden control is happening right now, not in some future “Westworld”-like existence.
Digital currencies will only worsen this situation. If they are added to this comprehensive surveillance infrastructure, it could well spell the end of the civil liberties that underpin Western civilization.
Yes, freedom matters
Please don’t read this, Secretary Summers, as some privileged anti-taxation take or a self-interested what’s-mine-is-mine demand that “the government stay away from my money.”
Money is just the instrument here. What matters is whether our transactions, our exchanges of goods and services and the source of our economic and social value, should be monitored and manipulated by government and corporate owners of centralized databases. It’s why critics of China’s digital currency plans rightly worry about a “panopticon” and why, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, there was an initial backlash against Facebook launching its libra currency.
Writers such as Shoshana Zuboff and Jared Lanier have passionately argued that our subservience to the hidden algorithms of what I like to call “GoogAzonBook” is diminishing our free will. Resisting that is important, not just to preserve the ideal of “the self” but also to protect the very functioning of society.
Markets, for one, are pointless without free will. In optimizing resource allocation, they presume autonomy among those who make up the market. Free will, which I’ll define as the ability to lawfully transact on my own terms without knowingly or unknowingly acting in someone else’s interests to my detriment, is a bedrock of market democracies. Without a sufficient right to privacy, it disintegrates – and in the digital age, that can happen very rapidly.
Also, as I’ve argued elsewhere, losing privacy undermines the fungibility of money. Each digital dollar should be substitutable for another. If our transactions carry a history and authorities can target specific notes or tokens for seizure because of their past involvement in illicit activity, then some dollars become less valuable than other dollars.
But to fully comprehend the harm done by encroachments into financial privacy, look to the world’s poor.
An estimated 1.7 billion adults are denied a bank account because they can’t furnish the information that banks’ anti-money laundering (AML) officers need, either because their government’s identity infrastructure is untrusted or because of the danger to them of furnishing such information to kleptocratic regimes. Unable to let banks monitor them, they’re excluded from the global economy’s dominant payment and savings system – victims of a system that prioritizes surveillance over privacy.
Misplaced priorities also contribute to the “derisking” problem faced by Caribbean and Latin American countries, where investment inflows have slowed and financial costs have risen in the past decade. America’s gatekeeping correspondent banks, fearful of heavy fines like the one imposed on HSBC for its involvement in a money laundering scandal, have raised the bar on the kind of personal information that regional banks must obtain from their local clients.
And where’s the payoff? Despite this surveillance system, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that between $800 billion and $2 trillion, or 2%-5% of global gross domestic product, is laundered annually worldwide. The Panama Papers case shows how the rich and powerful easily use lawyers, shell companies, tax havens and transaction obfuscation to get around surveillance. The poor are just excluded from the system.
Caring about privacy
Solutions are coming that wouldn’t require abandoning law enforcement efforts. Self-sovereign identity models and zero-knowledge proofs, for example, grant control over data to the individuals who generate it, allowing them to provide sufficient proof of a clean record without revealing sensitive personal information. But such innovations aren’t getting nearly enough attention.
Few officials inside developed country regulatory agencies seem to acknowledge the cost of cutting off 1.7 billion poor from the financial system. Yet, their actions foster poverty and create fertile conditions for terrorism and drug-running, the very crimes they seek to contain. The reaction to evidence of persistent money laundering is nearly always to make bank secrecy laws even more demanding. Exhibit A: Europe’s new AML 5 directive.
To be sure, in the Consensus discussion that followed the Summers interview, it was pleasing to hear another former U.S. official take a more accommodative view of privacy. Former Commodities and Futures Trading Commission Chairman Christopher Giancarlo said that “getting the privacy balance right” is a “design imperative” for the digital dollar concept he is actively promoting.
But to hold both governments and corporations to account on that design, we need an aware, informed public that recognizes the risks of ceding their civil liberties to governments or to GoogAzonBook.
Let’s talk about this, people.
A missing asterisk
Control for all variables. At the end of the day, the dollar’s standing as the world’s reserve currency ultimately comes down to how much the rest of the world trusts the United States to continue its de facto leadership of the world economy. In the past, that assessment was based on how well the U.S. militarily or otherwise dealt with human- and state-led threats to international commerce such as Soviet expansionism or terrorism. But in the COVID-19 era only one thing matters: how well it is leading the fight against the pandemic.
So if you’ve already seen the charts below and you’re wondering what they’re doing in a newsletter about the battle for the future of money, that’s why. They were inspired by a staged White House lawn photo-op Tuesday, where President Trump was flanked by a huge banner that dealt quite literally with a question of American leadership. It read, “America Leads the World in Testing.” That’s a claim that’s technically correct, but one that surely demands a big red asterisk. When you’re the third-largest country by population – not to mention the richest – having the highest number of tests is not itself much of an achievement. The claim demands a per capita adjustment. Here’s how things look, first in absolute terms, then adjusted for tests per million inhabitants.
Binance support number 1844-907-0583has frozen funds linked to Upbit’s prior $50 million data breach after the hackers tried to liquidate a part of the gains. In a recent tweet, Whale Alert warned Binance support number 1844-907-0583that a transaction of 137 ETH (about $28,000) had moved from an address linked to the Upbit hacker group to its wallets.