Why Privacy Matters More than Ever In the Age of Crypto

By Alex Shipp, Chief Strategy Officer of Offshift

Privacy is fundamental to any healthy and prosperous society, and was once an immovable cornerstone of the human experience. But like its long standing companions, solitude and self-expression, privacy has been surreptitiously excised from the social palette over the course of a few short decades. Perhaps even more alarming, the imperative of privacy and its integral role in safeguarding individual liberty seem to have been lost almost as abruptly.

Today, the very meaning attributed to language has been obscured behind a smokescreen of political rhetoric and banal platitudes that compose the newspeak of our time. From every corner of the political spectrum, the debate continues to flare around that which humans ought to be guaranteed - inalienable rights . The discourse now boasts an expansive lexicon, cryptic acronyms, and an ever-growing domain of social groups and government agencies supposedly dedicated to securing the ever-beloved “public good.”

The tug-of-war that results is that between the social contract that government representatives devise to ensure cooperative economic exchange — that is, a code of conduct that promotes certain forms of expression and restricts others — and the inherent impulses of humans to express themselves free from inhibition.

Indeed, it is in the very nature of a society to demand the foregoing of certain individual behaviors to achieve order — else the benefits of its scale and diversity could not be realized. Yet, the mere existence of an authoritative entity presents a great risk to society, as it produces a nerve center where unscrupulous individuals with affinities for power can fester and organize.

Thus, in a preemptive effort to prevent the exploitation of established authority, a democratic society forms an immutable code of inviolable human rights at its outset — one which its representatives must uphold empirically and unequivocally, and which supersedes any and all laws they may ratify into being.

Without compromise, privacy — that is, the right to be secluded from the presence and view of others — must be at the very top of this list.

The right to self-seclusion confers more than just the ephemeral comforts of leisure and decompression; it provides a space to be and cultivate one’s self outside the bounds of social dictates. Privacy is inseparable from individual expression because it opens a space where individuals can be still, introspect, and evolve. As such, privacy is in fact a precursor to free speech; an individual can only express that of himself which he knows and has realized. Without the preservation of privacy, the economic benefits conferred by even the most advanced civilization are lost in the barren landscape once occupied by human ingenuity, as it is the death of privacy that allows the seeds of conformity to take root.

It is no coincidence that in the domain of economic exchange, the belongings which fall under an individual’s possession are called “private property.” For if they were not exclusive, they would be property of the collective — or more accurately, of the representative body that governs the collective. The very term “private property” reminds us that even the most powerful and prosperous society is merely a constitution of individuals — and unique ones at that, each with their own ideas, objectives, possessions, and wealth. 

As exchange remains the primary purpose of human congregation — be it the exchange of property, ideas, affection, or wisdom — when the private elements of being human cannot be supported and sustained, the civilization which has disposed of them may be considered dead unto itself.

As blockchain technology advances toward mass adoption and major companies, governments, and organizations attempt to adapt to a rapidly evolving economic landscape, it remains imperative that the prerogative of individual privacy prevails. Any systems that aim to champion individual liberty must commit therefore to the ethos of privacy rights. The two are inseparable; each implies and requires the other.

The blockchain revolution and the Web3 movement that has spawned from it offer humanity great promise on this journey. However, a host of new threats are taking form in this new Information Age, where personal information can be harvested from individuals, aggregated, and fed into algorithms in order to extract the descriptive and predictive value vested in it. Nowhere is this more critical than in the rapidly evolving decentralized finance (DeFi) sector, where individuals must be endowed with the freedom to own their assets privately.

As the global economy and its systems of exchange march further into the digital domain, our private property — that is, our wealth — will increasingly take the form of ones and zeros stored in databases around the world. In order to maintain our privacy in the virtual space, systems of decentralized architecture are imperative to ensure that data — be it in the form of search histories, thoughts, or most important of all, digital assets — remains in the possession of its rightful owners and those with whom they choose to share it.

The threat of danger and impending demise is and always will be the narrative espoused by those in positions of power who intend to diminish individual privacy and absolve human rights altogether. In these times of ever-encroaching authoritarianism, we cannot forget that national governments and supranational organizations the world over are merely groups of elected individuals entrusted with the responsibility to serve their people - not to control, coerce, or surveil them, and certainly not to be served by them.

None has encapsulated the digital dilemma between privacy and order more eloquently or concisely than journalist and former attorney Glenn Greenwald: “Transparency is for those who carry out public duties and exercise public power. Privacy is for everyone else.”

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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