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Privacy Is A Human Right

It's a well-known image, the Korean Peninsula from space. The lights from cities like Seoul, Busan, and Incheon sparkle like so many stars of freedom, while to the north of the 48th parallel only darkness prevails. What that image teaches us is that illumination is not only powered by electricity but by freedom. Protecting fundamental human rights is as essential to keeping darkness in check as technology and, in truth, more so.

On September 30, 2011, South Korea passed the Personal Information Protection Act. It included monetary fines and even imprisonment for those that violated their citizens' privacy. South Korea also joined the APEC Cross Border Privacy Rules, which requires companies to have privacy policies that severely limit the holding, use, or disclosure of any information that can connect to a specific individual. This act recognizes the danger and threat to civil liberties if a person's data can be connected to them, referencing "the possibility of the data subject rights and the severity of the relevant risks." However, South Korea's exchanges seem to have no qualms about jeopardizing their customers' financial and personal health. Neither do they seem to take issue with transacting in scam projects while delisting Litecoin, which fulfills the very spirit of the Personal Information Protection Act. Perhaps, someone forgot to tell those exchanges that cryptocurrency code is speech, and privacy is essential to protecting it as a fundamental human right.

Hypocrisy is rife in the cryptosphere these days, as well. One might have expected the crypto-blogosphere to jump to Litecoin's defense when it came under attack for adding privacy features. Unfortunately, rather than underline the values they had previously claimed were essential to their support of blockchain technology, they immediately used it as an opportunity to tear down a potential competitor. Some of the bloggers took a passive-aggressive approach feigning surprise that Litecoin wasn't dead. As if they were somehow unaware that Litecoin is the second most supported crypto on ATMs in the entire world or that LTC is already number two for payments on Bitpay. In effect, they took the side of institutions and governments that would strip those of us of our freedoms.

You haven't seen concern for most other cryptocurrencies in South Korea because the government really has no reason to worry about them. They understand what fundamental properties separate a meme investment from an actual currency. Like playing Jazz, you have to know the rules before you can break them and the central banks of the world understand them well enough to debase and manipulate as required. Their action also proves that Litecoin isn't the same as those other flavor-of-the-month projects. While most cryptos hastily add features that offer little to no actual relevancy and often crash their network doing so, Litecoin pursued a much loftier goal—sound money.

One of the dirty little secrets of the cryptosphere is that bitcoin doesn't actually represent all the properties of sound money. It's close, but fungibility is an essential component it lacks. One could easily imagine a scenario in which Satoshi's personal bitcoin could be seen as more valuable if it suddenly became available. More troubling is a scenario where bitcoin, with an unsavory history, could be worth less or even blocked, not unlike blood diamonds. Such is the necessity of fungibility and privacy. Satoshi wrote about privacy in the bitcoin white paper, but he had no doubt expected that others would take up the mantle and fulfill bitcoin's promise in the future. That is precisely what happened, but with Litecoin and the continued involvement of Charlie Lee.

You can tell when a feature is not merely intended to pump the price when its developers spend years working on it only to release it at what most would consider being the worst possible time.

Adding MimbleWimble Extension Blocks (MWEB), Litecoin's privacy/fungibility upgrade, to Litecoin wasn't a feature; it was a calling. A sincere belief that privacy is a basic human right. Without it, there is no freedom of speech or even thought. It is a cornerstone value. The 2013 UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression went as far as to conclude that without privacy, you cannot hope to protect freedom and, once again, expressed a familiar concern with how the use and retention of personal data and privacy are connected.

Exchanges would like to treat cryptocurrency as uniquely not being blessed with these protections because rights have to be fought for to be protected, and that requires courage. However, failing to do so is a morally repugnant and cowardly position. History is awash with the blood of those who died because their privacy was not fully respected. How can so many of our fellow crypto enthusiasts fail to understand that this is a life and death issue far too crucial over which to be tribal or, even worse, hypocritical. We must protect privacy as a human right, or cryptocurrency has no lasting purpose. We already have a perfect vehicle for manipulating value and denying people their freedom—fiat. The South Korean government would also do well to be reminded of the lesson of that picture from outer space. Freedom is required to keep the light of liberty ablaze, and that requires privacy.

Ōishi Yoshio


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