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CBDCs and Digital Surveillance: A Threat to Individual Autonomy

Started by trilight, Nov 02, 2023, 07:42 PM

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CBDCs and Digital Surveillance: A Threat to Individual Autonomy

Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC) have become increasingly popular around the world as governments seek ways to modernize their monetary systems. To the surprise of no one, CBDCs started popping up in various central bank programs soon after the 2020-2021 cryptocurrency volatile movements. At the time, Bitcoin had risen from 4 figures to peak at $69,000, putting cryptocurrencies in the spotlights and a race to find innovative use-cases. While partly vaporwares were rapidly taking over the news, governments were trying to catch up and started investigating the use of cryptocurrencies for central banks. At first glance, these digital currencies could indeed offer greater convenience and efficiency when it comes to financial transactions - but at what cost? As countries around the world race to introduce digital currencies backed by their central banks, it becomes crucial to consider the implications of these developments on individual freedoms, financial autonomy, and the future of better democracy.

CBDCs and the Threat to Privacy

Before even starting, it goes without saying that governments are doomed to corrupt the cryptocurrency ideology through central banking because of the very definition of what a cryptocurrency is: *a digital currency not reliant on a central authority*. With that irony out of the way, let's get into the core issues. One major concern about CBDCs is that they could be used to track individuals' spending habits, thereby eroding personal privacy protections. Unlike paper currency or even some existing payment systems like credit cards, CBDCs allow governments to easily track transactions made by individual and business, without intermediaries. Even in countries with strong legal privacy protections, the temptation of having this level of access will undoubtedly lead certain entities within governments to make use of this power. Meanwhile, this best-case scenario is not even comparable to what could happen in all other countries who started taking a liking of authoritarian ideologies. This level of monitoring can, and will, be used to punish dissenters, restrict access to financial services and deny citizens their right to free movement. There are already countries which grown their use of
exit-bans to prevent some of their citizens, and foreigners, from leaving the country.

The worse may be yet to come, as the most insidious impact of CBDC may lie in the behavioral changes it will lead to in companies and consumers alike. A centralized node controlling money movement within and between boundaries will drastically change how citizens act and how the economy is run, at the risk of being profiteered upon by corporations seeking to raise profits. Monopolies will form over the technical and financial control of these nodes, and their monetization at all cost, including the cost of privacy. Interestingly enough, commercial banks may not be the ones leading this takeover, as the existence of CBDC will threaten their fundamental business model of holding currencies. Rather, it will only be the largest tech corporations that will have the technical and political means to manage and decipher the mysteries of CBDCs. Beyond this direct discernible threat, the disappearance of cash payments will change how citizens view currencies and money, from an asset you can accumulate to a flowing good. Consumerism will be facilitated, worsening its impact on ecology.

The Rise of Digital Authoritarianism

Governments will use digital spending information to implement their social credit systems and keeping track of their activities. As we mentioned above, this is already happening in some countries, where the  complete control of the government over their financial systems gives them the power CBDCs would give others. How much more efficient will their tracking be once their economy is even more digitalized than it is? As troubling as the implications of CBDCs may be for privacy advocates, they are only one aspect of a broader trend towards digital authoritarianism. Governments around the world have been increasingly turning to technology as a tool for social control, from China's infamous social credit system to mass surveillance programs in Western democracies like the United States and the United Kingdom. In this context, the rollout of CBDCs represents less an innovation than a logical extension of existing authoritarian tendencies.

Characteristics of a dystopia include complete government control over citizens, including controlling the flow of information, the pursuit of almost divine goals, and the loss of individuality. By all means, more of the world is leaning towards a dystopia in its very essence, and complete financial control will only make it worse through a trickle-down effect. The rise of CBDCs only coincides with other worrying developments, such as the growing power of tech giants like Google, Meta and Microsoft, the erosion of civil liberties in the name of national security, regional conflicts spilling over, the accelerating impacts of climate change and financial crisis. These trends suggest that the world may be headed towards a full dystopian future characterized by centralized control, mass surveillance, and the suppression of individuality. It is getting each year more Orwellian everywhere, just the approach and speed differs per country.

Counter-Movements and the Fight for Freedom

Fortunately, there are counter-movements emerging around the world fighting against this digital authoritarianism. From decentralization efforts aimed at reducing reliance on big tech platforms to grassroots initiatives promoting self-sufficiency and local economies, these movements represent a hopeful response to the growing threats posed by CBDCs and other forms of digital control. Technology flows both towards governments and citizens, potentially giving the latter more control over their individuality. One particularly promising development is the rise of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or Monero. Unlike CBDCs, real cryptocurrencies are built on decentralized blockchains enabling peer-to-peer transactions without the need for intermediaries like banks or governments. Monero itself is designed with a privacy-oriented blockchain, making its transactions almost completely anonymous and preventing nefarious entities from monitoring them. This makes these cryptocurrencies an attractive alternative for those concerned about privacy, security, and freedom in the digital age. In fact, they are the only alternative to global payments for which cash is inefficient. The barrier of entry into cryptocurrency has never been so low technically, and the obstacles remaining are the transfers between them and the traditional payment methods. The sharing of technologies across online communities by activists is seen as worrisome by governments, and this is a good thing. Access to information enables all to access technology, and access to technology enables all to better emphasize their freedom and individuality. Change and a better world comes usually from the bottom as throughout history those at the highest levels have their own reasons to oppose or delay such movement.

In conclusion, CBDCs are fundamentally flawed, not only by definition but in their very principles. Unlike traditional cryptocurrencies, they require centralization and render using a blockchain useless, as anyone controlling the majority of a blockchain could modify it to their liking and would gain the power of rewriting truth. Trust gave way to a truth that will become no more than a tradable commodity itself. Their implementation poses serious threats to individual privacy rights and protection. It is our duty to remain vigilant in monitoring the development of such technologies coming to prey over the masses of humanity at large. Counter-surveillance movements need to bring empowerment to all and eliminate the oppressive structural imbalances maintained by top-down hierarchies, perpetuating the benefits of elites. Emerging and re-emerging online communities can play a very important role in responding to these attacks on our individual autonomy.