Let’s end the surveillance state.
The 20th anniversary of 9/11 is a good time to reassess the thoroughly undemocratic level of snooping we now accept.
Re-sharing below the latest edition of #Web3 Weekly, my regular newsletter about decentralization. This installment covers Sept. 5–11, 2021. If you’d like to get #Web3 Weekly in your inbox every Sunday, please subscribe here.
As we mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11 this weekend, it’s heartening to see the surveillance state that the U.S. created afer the attack get some well-deserved skeptical treatment in the press.
Wired’s Albert Fox Cahn thoroughly addressed both online and offline snooping post-9/11:
“In the aftermath of the attacks, we heard patriotic platitudes from those who promised to ‘defend democracy.’ But in the ensuing years, their defense became democracy’s greatest threat, reconstructing cities as security spaces. The billions we spent to ‘defend our way of life’ have proved to be its undoing, and it’s unclear if we’ll be able to turn back the trend.
“In a country where the term ‘papers, please’ was once synonymous with foreign authoritarianism, photo ID has become an ever present requirement. Before 9/11, a New Yorker could spend their entire day traversing the city without any need for ID. Now it’s required to enter nearly any large building or institution.”
Meanwhile, over on the West Coast, news broke this week that the Los Angeles Police Department is now collecting social media handles for every citizen its officers interact with. You know, just in case that information is handy later.
Look, I experienced 9/11 firsthand in Lower Manhattan as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal at the time. I know people who died in the attack. I understand the impulse for increased security since. But history is crystal clear that the level of government surveillance of the general public that we’ve accepted in the last two decades is ultimately incompatible with democracy.
For a good summary of those lessons from history, I’d highly recommend the last third or so of cybersecurity consultant Mikko Hyponnen’s excellent TED talk from 2013. He delivered this talk shortly after Edward Snowden’s blockbuster revelations of federal snooping at the time, and it holds up well even today, I think.
The week’s other headlines:
- El Salvador’s bitcoin rollout hit some bumps. The Latin American country introduced bitcoin as legal tender despite a marked lack of popular support. Nevertheless, President Nayib Bukele’s administration remains committed to bitcoin as a long-term proposition. The government purchased about $20 million worth of the token amid the week’s rollout. Meanwhile, CNBC reported that increased usage of bitcoin for remittance transfers from overseas people to relatives in El Salvador could cost Western Union $400 million a year in revenue.
- Minority Americans have a significantly greater appetite for cryptocurrency than White people. Roll Call reports that two new surveys show about 23% of Black and 17% of Hispanic Americans own cryptocurrency compared to 11% of Whites. The trend seems driven by frustration with conventional banks’ services among minority communities.
- Coinbase is publicly feuding with U.S. regulators. In a blog post, the trading platform complained that the Securities and Exchange Commission has threatened to sue it over a proposed new lending product, but won’t say why. Thus Coinbase says it’s unclear what issues they should fix.
- Bitcoin miners and oil executives met in Houston. The unlikely mingling included discussion of improving the Bitcoin network’s energy efficiency, possible regulatory changes, and other areas of shared interest, CNBC reports.
- America has eight parking spaces for every car. Well, that seems kinda wasteful.
That’s it for now. Thanks for spending some time with the newsletter today! A full revision history of it, including earlier drafts, is available here. If you’d like to get updates like this in your inbox every Sunday, please join our email list here.
As ever, a quick disclaimer: This newsletter is intended for journalistic purposes only, not as investment advice. For the latter, please DYOR and consult appropriate financial pros to make the most suitable choices for your needs.