In brief

  • Edward Snowden appeared at this year's Ethereal Summit to discuss the future of crypto and privacy.
  • He was joined by Marta Belcher, a fierce advocate for digital freedom.

Speaking at Decrypt's Ethereal Summit, infamous whistleblower Edward Snowden argued that Bitcoin must be made "private by design" in order to counter efforts to crack down on so-called "privacy coins" such as Monero.

"Bitcoin is really failing comprehensively on the privacy angle," Snowden said, adding, "Now in 2021, everybody knows there's a problem when we talk about digital surveillance."

Snowden, a former contractor for the US National Security Agency who leaked highly classified intelligence in 2013, spoke to Marta Belcher, special counsel to digital privacy non-profit the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The pair discussed how cryptocurrencies can take the anonymity of cash and import it into the online world. Belcher added that she was very alarmed by attempts to extend "mass surveillance" on the crypto industry.

The privacy problem

The two also pivoted their attention to privacy coins such as Monero and ZCash. Unlike Bitcoin, privacy coins enable fully anonymous transactions. However, Snowden pointed out, Monero is having trouble being listed on exchanges. "But they're both great projects," he added.

"The way that you fix this, is you make Bitcoin private," Snowden said. "You have to make the idea that cryptocurrency is private by design," he said. "It's really frustrating for a lot of people in this space that the core development team for Bitcoin has been prioritized—because the longer they wait, the more obstacles are going to be put in place to prevent that."

Snowden argued that the biggest problem with the cryptocurrency industry today is that the people making decisions about regulating the industry are those with the biggest stake in the system.

Snowden also described central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) as "terrible." Even disregarding the privacy issues around CBDCs, Snowden argued, they are problematic because they enable governments to issue money with an expiration date. "'Well, for economic stimulus, we can give you a payment, but if you don't use it, you lose it'," he said. "Simply the idea that anyone anywhere can revoke your money is terrifying."

Ultimately, though, Snowden favors one form of money above all when it comes to privacy. "Cash, I have said repeatedly, really does the best in this space," he said.