Bitcoin, surveillance and anonymity

published Apr 15, 2022, last modified Apr 16, 2022

Common, yet erroneous myths dispelled.

Bitcoin, surveillance and anonymity

This post was written by  Alan Szepieniec.  It is reprinted here with permission, slightly edited for clarity.

Anonymous money will never be accepted by regulatory bodies, never will, never has.

Except that all moneys that ever existed (including anonymous ones) arose on the market and not by government fiat.

Traceability is indispensable for money

This position is not just ahistorical, it is contrary to common sense. The point of money is to settle debt. If you have to verify the entire history of a coin before being able to spend or receive it it's a shitty money.  There is even legal precedent stating as much.

All things being equal, traceability is a bad thing because it exposes holders and recipients to the risk of being targeted by thieves or activists, and the risk of being liable for enabling illicit activity or for having to return stolen coins to their proper owner. Privacy gives you a defense against these attacks.

[traceability] the whole point of bitcoin

No, the whole point of Bitcoin is to be able to settle debt purely electronically, without having to trust anyone. Bitcoin's traceability is the solution to the conundrum that eliminating trust assumptions pose: if you can't trust anyone to tell you how much money you have, or whether an incoming payment is valid, how do you know? Bitcoin's answer is to give you access to the entire history so that you can compute the answer for yourself. The point is that there might be other answers to the puzzle -- how to give cryptographic assurance of balances and amounts and transaction validity -- that don't involve exposing the history.

It's not far fetched to think that in a few years, once bitcoin becomes really mainstream, you will need to register and associate your wallet to your identity in order to make and receive payments legitimately

Money is a market phenomenon; it predates governments; it exists because there is demand for it, not because governments made it or allow it to exist. Barring a worldwide establishment of a malevolent DDR-type regime forbidding emigration, governments that outlaw good money will be outcompeted by governments that don't.

I'm sure governments would love to penalize node operators for "unlicensed node operation", but at the same time they would hate to see their tax base move to a foreign jurisdiction — and since this type of money is digital, that will happen.  People who own Bitcoin are already moving to jurisdictions friendlier to Bitcoin than their prior ones.

Money in its various guises derives its usefulness from the fact that one can be relatively certain that a dollar received is a dollar able to be spent without friction or uncertainty

— Alastair Berg, in Privacy, fungibility, anonymity.