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Crypto-Keys are Free Speech

Published on August 18th, 2013 by mark

Free Speech, ZeroCoin, and the Fourth Amendment

by Mark Matthews In a recent interview, privacy advocate Trace Mayer, who serves on the Editorial Board for Bitcoin Magazine, made the claim that Crypto-Keys are free speech and should be protected as such under the 1st Amendment. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="320"] Image courtesy of altemark[/caption] Other voices protest this viewpoint calling the anonymity of Bitcoin its only flaw. Free speech, they say, are the words that come out of a person’s mouth, not a data packet you want to send over the public web. More and more voices are calling for greater transparency. It is needed, they say, in order for Bitcoin to evolve to its full potential, and unless Bitcoin adopts transparency it will lose market share to the crypto-currency that does. On the flip side, Bitcoin may seek favor with government regulators and opt for more transparency, but then some other crypto-currency could implement the ZeroCoin protocol. We might see LiteCoin or FeatherCoin go full-throttle in the direction of total anonymity, and if that happens the debate will be over. It seems inevitable that at some point one these emerging forks in the Bitcoin road will become an anarchist’s wet dream. For those who are uninitiated, Zerocoin is not intended as a replacement for Bitcoin. It's actually a separate anonymous currency that's designed to live side-by-side with Bitcoin on the same block chain. Zerocoins are fully exchangeable on a one-to-one basis with bitcoins, which means you could use them with existing merchants. Zerocoin as currently construed is probably not going to go online anytime soon. But some version of Zerocoin might be ready in the near future. A zerocoin would be both unique–it couldn’t be forged or duplicated–and yet also be impossible for an observer to identify as the same zerocoin between the moment it substituted for a bitcoin and the moment it was traded back for one. Media consultant and stateless ex-American, Mike Gogulski, writes “the exchange of money and currency, is indistinguishable from speech. The suppression of financial speech is being used as a weapon of war against the people of this planet just as surely as drone strikes, pervasive surveillance and land mines are and have been.” Has the time come to begin separating digital cash from the ubiquitous control architecture of political structures? Like it or not, this is exactly what anonymous math-based currency do. Free people deserve a free world, and to get there they need currencies that they control directly which afford them privacy. Others respond by saying, if Bitcoin become mainstream there's nothing stopping the big money powers from transacting their activities in Bitcoin and carrying on their degradation of humanity. This, however, is a weak argument against anonymity because Bitcoin really changes nothing in this regard. The criminal syndicates, even those we call government, will continue to do what they have always done. The point anarchist and libertarian supporters of Bitcoin make is that it works, and it works without government--so just try to stop it. We are told doing without government would be a disaster, but that doesn't mean that increasing the current level of government would improve things. In reality, there's probably a lot of areas that could do with less government, and a lot of areas that could do with more. This kind of fine distinction is lost in arguments as to whether we need "more" or "less" government overall. Perhap the better argument for protecting Bitcoin is the Fourth Amendment. Sen. Rand Paul, of Tea Party fame, recently introduced a bill to extend Fourth Amendment protections to include electronic communications; presumably this would also include crypto-currencies. Without knowing it, it would seem that Sen. Paul has just called for protection of Bitcoin under the Fourth Amendment. This body of law is supposed to protect the American people from unreasonable search and seizure, though that has been undermined in recent years. The Fourth Amendment also requires warrants to be issued based on probable cause, but that too has been increasingly eroded under the guise of fighting terrorism. Financial privacy should not be viewed in a negative light, as it is often portrayed. The Swiss view it as a fundamental human right to preserve dignity, akin to medical privacy. The solution, it seems, is to encourage users of Bitcoin to adopt a voluntary system of identification that maintains some level of privacy. Regardless of whether or not Bitcoin moves toward total privacy or away from it, the idea of anonymity isn't going to simply disappear because the Winklevoss twins think is a good idea for their bottom-line. We should all welcome transparency in government, but we don’t seem to be moving in that direction either, and until we do is it reasonable to demand Bitcoin do what government will not do? I think not. Our legacy banking system is based on debt, while the peer-to-peer, electronic cash system that Satoshi Nakamoto came up with is not. Debt has been the stock and trade of the banking system since the days Kings ruled the land. Bitcoin is not a debt-based currency, therefore it does not lend itself to oligarchical control or what we might call “the game of thrones”. The proverbial “powers behind the throne” that control the money of the world, and have done so for time out of mind, are not likely to simply to step aside or fade away without a fight. “The suppression of virtual currencies was inevitable” writes Harry Binswanger in a recent Forbes article. “Bitcoin and its brethren are challenges to state power. Their appeal is as a means of protecting one’s wealth from the government. No leftist, or even middle-of-the-road, government will accept that.” US president Thomas Jefferson and French Emperor Napoleon both damned quite horribly those financiers who were involved with the banking system of their time. Napoleon said, "When a government is dependent upon bankers for money, they and not the leaders of the government control the situation, since the hand that gives is above the hand that takes... financiers are without patriotism and without decency; their sole object is gain." Jefferson warned, “banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.” “On resiste a l’invasion des armees; on ne resiste pas a l’invasion des idees.” The French sentence above is from the final chapter of Victor Hugo’s book The History of a Crime, his account of the French coup d’état of 1851 that brought Napoleon III to power. It’s the origin of the famous quotation that is commonly, but erroneously attributed to Hugo: “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” In reality, the literal English translation of that sentence: “One can resist the invasion of armies; one cannot resist the invasion of ideas.” Certainly, a global currency is an idea whose time has come, but one that is both autonomous and anonymous, now that is truly revolutionary. Bitcion represents a paradigm shift in how we think about money. However, our truest challenge is to reinvent the idea of both MONEY and BANKING, and establish a new form of public governance that better serves humanity. Does this fledgling currency need protection under the fourth amendment? Should it be regulated by government or considered free speech? These questions will rage on, but in the end the technology we call Bitcoin is here to stay and so is the protocol for total financial privacy. It is very difficult to eradicate a protocol. Like a language, it exists as long as people use it, and it cannot be easily requisitioned or quarantined. Peer-to-peer technology is evolving, not going back in the box. Sun Tzu said, "the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting." It would seem Satoshi Nakamoto was well versed in this maxim.

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