Bitcoin

Bitcoin Is Protecting Human Rights Around the World

"It's an escape hatch from tyranny," writes the Human Rights Foundation's Alex Gladstein. "It's nothing less than freedom money."

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Bitcoin has won over some of America's best-known billionaires, and institutions worldwide are treating it as a serious financial asset. But bitcoin's rising price is only one part of the story.

Whether they know it or not, people who buy bitcoin are strengthening a tool for protecting human rights. This still relatively new form of electronic money is censorship-resistant, seizure-resistant, borderless, permissionless, pseudonymous, programmable, and peer-to-peer.

In bitcoin, transactions don't go through banks or financial intermediaries. They travel directly from one person to another.

Payment processing is done not by a regulated company such as Visa or Mastercard but by a decentralized global software network. Storage is handled not by a bank but by the users themselves.

Bitcoin issuance isn't determined by central bankers. The currency's creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, set it to have an ultimate limit of 21 million. No one can ever print more.

Bitcoin transactions can't be stopped, and you don't need to reveal your name or address or telephone number to participate. You just need internet access.

In 2017, the economist Paul Krugman described bitcoin as "some fancy technological thing that nobody really understands. There's been no demonstration yet that it actually is helpful in conducting economic transactions. There's no anchor for its value."

Krugman lives in a sheltered environment in a liberal democracy with constitutional protections. His native currency is globally dominant and relatively stable. It's easy for him to open a bank account, to use a mobile app to pay bills, or to grow his wealth by investing in real estate or stocks.

But not everyone has that level of privilege. Around 4.2 billion people live under authoritarian regimes that use money as a tool for surveillance and state control. Their currency is often debased, and they are, for the most part, cut off from the international system that Krugman enjoys. For them, saving and transacting outside the government's purview isn't shady business. It's a way to preserve their freedoms.

In China, if you type or utter one wrong word, the Communist Party might eliminate your financial services. This devastating outcome creates a chilling effect for dissidents and creative minds, who are forced to use the country's increasingly centralized digital economy.

In Hong Kong or Russia, donors to human rights organizations can see their bank accounts suspended and funds seized.

Over the past few months in Belarus and Nigeria, nationwide protests have broken out against tyranny and corruption. In both places, activists raising money to support the democracy movement have had their bank accounts frozen.

Just a few days ago, in Burma's latest coup, the military shut down the banking system and turned off the ATMs.

For activists living under state repression, bitcoin provides a way to preserve their money in cyberspace, locked away by encryption, safe from devaluation, in a network that has never been hacked. For them, it's digital cash and digital gold rolled into one.

And in Cuba, Nigeria, China, Pakistan, Venezuela, Russia, Turkey, Argentina, Palestine, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere, bitcoin is catching on and helping people escape tyranny and currency collapse.

In the past few months, Belarusian activists have used bitcoin to defy the regime by sending more than 3 million dollars of unstoppable money directly to striking workers, who then convert it locally to rubles in peer-to-peer marketplaces to feed their families as they protest the country's dictatorship.

In October, a feminist coalition in Nigeria raised the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars in bitcoin to buy gas masks and protest equipment as activist bank accounts were being turned on and off.

In Russia, the opposition politician Alexei Navalny has raised millions in bitcoin as Vladimir Putin maintains strict control over the traditional financial system. Putin can do a lot of things, but he can't freeze a bitcoin account.

In Iran and Palestine and Cuba, individuals face sanctions or embargoes because of the misdeeds of their corrupt rulers. Bitcoin gives them a lifeline for earning income or receiving remittances from abroad.

Some Venezuelans, having watched their country's currency evaporate due to hyperinflation, are converting their resources to bitcoin's digital format and then escaping. With their savings secured by a password that can be stored on a flash drive, phone, or even memorized, they've started new lives in other countries, taking advantage of a technology that refugees throughout history could only dream about.

The citizens of democracies also face financial controls, deplatforming, and an ever-expanding surveillance state. But those lucky enough to live in open societies can vote, sue, protest, and write, and those methods might allow them to protect their financial freedom and privacy. The billions who live under authoritarian governments don't have the same options.

Unlike democracy, bitcoin is universally available. You don't need to have a particular passport or bank card or voting status to use it. No government can turn off your bitcoin if it's threatened by your ideas.

We are in the middle of a great digital transformation, a time when cash, one of the last bastions of privacy and freedom, is disappearing. People rely increasingly on easily surveilled apps such as Apple Pay and AliPay—and, perhaps soon, central bank–issued digital currencies as their primary medium of exchange.

Bitcoin provides an alternative to our increasingly centralized financial system. It gives any activist or journalist a way to raise funds without censorship, a way to save despite the corrosive impact of excessive money printing, and a way to teleport value without permission.

Bitcoin wasn't as powerful five years ago, before it had global liquidity. But today, exchanges have popped up in every region, daily trading volume exceeds that of Apple and other popular stocks, and peer-to-peer marketplaces such as Paxful and LocalBitcoins have extended their reach, enabling users to sell bitcoin for local currency almost anywhere in the world.

Maybe you don't need bitcoin. Maybe you don't understand bitcoin. Maybe PayPal, Venmo, or your bank account serves your needs just fine.

But don't write off bitcoin as simply a vehicle for financial speculation. For millions of people around the world, it's an escape hatch from tyranny—nothing less than freedom money.

Written and narrated by Alex Gladstein. Motion graphics by Lex Villena. Sound design by Isaac Reese and Regan Taylor.

Music: "Countdown" and "2049" by Synthwave Goose.

Photo Credits: Aristidis Vafeiadakis Zuma Press/Newscom, Vernon Yuen Zuma Press/Newscom, ID 12085637© Artem Samokhvalov| Dreamstime.com, ID 10620275© EmeraldUmbrellaStudio| Dreamstime.com, ID 53155927© Emma Frater Dreamstime.com, Photo 29566579 © Breakers Dreamstime.com, Roman Camacho Zuma Press/Newscom, ID 170668499© Michael Vi Dreamstime.com, ID 41034616© Bigapplestock| Dreamstime.com, ID 204283371© Brett Hondow| Dreamstime.com, ID 78877294© Jlcst| Dreamstime.com

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  1. No financial middlemen? No ID? Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but the exchanges seem to have pretty good identity verification, and charge very steep fees for depositing or withdrawing anything.

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    2. No financial middlemen? No ID? Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but the exchanges seem to have pretty good identity verification, and charge very steep fees for depositing or withdrawing anything.

      You misunderstand. There are no middlemen or exchange fees (just mining fees) as long as you’re using the network’s currency, which may or may not be honored everywhere. The fees are incurred when you leave the network and the security checks are there to make sure you aren’t doing anything malicious to the network. Once the network counts the world as its dominion, everything will be secure and exchange fees and tyranny will be entirely eliminated.

      It’s completely different from a fiat.

      1. I see, the charges are for converting dollars to bitcoin and back.

        1. Depending on the exchange, it’s not just bitcoindollars but other currencies, including crypto as well. Especially if the particular exchange doesn’t support the particular currency. Some exchanges are pretty good about the fees and some are good about hiding them (e.g. trade with any currency on the exchange for free but there’s a fee to withdraw whether in dollars or any other currency).

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  3. Bitcoin has won over some of America’s best-known billionaires, and institutions worldwide are treating it as a serious financial asset. But bitcoin’s rising price is only one part of the story.

    Be careful what you wish for. The last time I looked, most of these best-known billionaires were working hand-in-hand with government regulators, trying to create a bitcoin trading system that was “acceptable” to regulators (the Federal Government) that would better guarantee that transactions could be monitored etc.

    Cameron Winklevoss on Crypto Regulation: “Free-for-Alls Don’t Work”
    The Winklevoss twins believe crypto regulation and customer freedom can meet in the middle.

    Known for their regulation-friendly outlook within the crypto industry, Gemini exchange founders Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss hold a hybrid approach to privacy and government rules.

    The twin brothers explained in a May 22 podcast interview with Peter McCormack that crypto adoption comes a need for some degree of regulation. Cameron added:

    “The independence and sovereignty around crypto is unmatched with any technology before, but the onramps have to have an element of thoughtful regulation.”

    Zero regulation is not the answer
    Labeled as the 15th and 16th most influential people in the crypto space, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss dove into Bitcoin following their suit of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. The brothers founded the Gemini crypto exchange in 2015, which falls in line with regulations for New York-based exchanges.

    1. Agree. There is no chance – EVER – that any money-based billionaire is ever going to give a rat’s shit about human rights or freedom from oppressive govt control over the money system or anything else like that. The fact that this author is pimping bitcoin (uniquely – doesn’t even mention ‘blockchain’ as the underlying tech for an alternative money) just says that some bitcoin whales are looking to offload/diversify when the TA is favorable.

      I have been looking at every crisis that has popped up for the last 10 years. Just seeing whether or when some digital alternative will make inroads among those who desperately need those inroads to be made. It hasn’t happened. Hasn’t even started. But you can always be sure that the Bitcoin pimps will show up selling the value of hoarding hot air. They are like gold bugs in the sense that they never even really acknowledge an alternative similar to their own (eg silver – ethereum which has at least transformed into a different business model with far more talent available to maybe transform it into something that can actually become money).

      Can BLOCKCHAIN become a disruptive monetary technology? For those 4-5 billion folks who are locked out of existing money systems? Even though that group is also locked out of technology systems?

      I think yes. But Bitcoin can never be that. Bitcoin is the preferred blockchain currency for those who ski in Davos and then jet off to their seastead near Bimini – while they spend their days in their pajamas trading cryptocurrency based on technical analysis.

      At some point there will likely be a blockchain that is revolutionary money. If I were to guess – a money that is far more directly tied to usufructuary land registration/titling – and debt based on that. A money system that if it had been around in pre-Civil War US would have recognized the land titling claims of slaves working land not slaveowners with land grants from government sipping mint juleps on the verandah.

      It will NOT be Bitcoin. And if I were to guess – Bitcoin will do everything it can at that point to oppose any actual change to the status quo.

      1. With a due respect you are very wide of the mark.

        You don’t seem to understand blockchain and have been taken in by the people trying to sell blockchain snake oil as a product.

        (B)itcoin is the network and (b)itcoin is the native token that miners collect in return for securing the network and ordering transactions into blocks.

        bitcoin isn’t the first truly digital currency, but it’s the first one that worked.

        Blockchain not Bitcoin is a debunked and misinformed narrative that has produced nothing of value and is technically wrong.

        Here’s an explainer of what blockchain actually is..
        https://oleganza.com/all/what-is-blockchain/

        1. (B)itcoin is the network and (b)itcoin is the native token that miners collect in return for securing the network and ordering transactions into blocks.

          With due respect, you’re a dumbass who can’t read or understand what he wrote.

          He’s exactly right. Bitcoin miners have a vested interest in making sure Etherium, Litecoin, Compound, Algorand, etc., etc., etc. don’t devalue and debase their currency/efforts. The exact same way the FedGov has a vested interest and massive head start in making sure Bitcoin doesn’t (and likly won’t) do the same to the dollar.

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        2. I think you are wide of the mark with respect to what a ‘currency’ is. Whether it is digital or not, it is only a currency if it is actually a currency – a circulating form of money.

          Those crisis situations are where a hitherto-unknown currency can arise. It’s been of interest to me ever since my first econ class with the hoary article about how cigarettes became a currency in WW2 POW camps. Whether its Greece, Zimbabwe, Iran, Hong Kong, Venezuela, 2008 US, etc – the same thing happens unplanned in most crises. Bitcoin certainly captured the imagination of ‘I want an alternative’ types in the aftermath of 2008 but has not become an actual currency because it never was one. Those who wanted an alternative then did not actually want an alternative to the dollar but to the stock market.

          I agree that blockchain has not delivered on much of anything. It is not securing anything of real value in a form that disintermediates existing intermediaries. That doesn’t mean Bitcoin is delivering on anything either. There is no reason at all to believe that the real value in tomorrow’s world depends entirely on flawed electricity generation to serve as the basis for future price discovery. It’s insane to believe that actually.

          But as I said – I expect that any future currency that disintermediates will of necessity be based on securing itself to a real asset that exists NOW but that is not currently secured by the existing intermediaries. The distributed database is exactly what secures that value in a crisis. Usufructuary land use/registration is exactly what exists now but is not included in any current banking/money system. Even though all of them are based almost entirely on securing land titling systems.

  4. Bitcoin has won over some of America’s best-known billionaires, and institutions worldwide are treating it as a serious financial asset. But bitcoin’s rising price is only one part of the story……..USA TOP ONLINE JOB.

  5. “It’s an escape hatch from tyranny,” writes the Human Rights Foundation’s Alex Gladstein. “It’s nothing less than freedom money……..CLICK HERE MORE DETAIL.

  6. “It’s an escape hatch from tyranny,”

    That explains why all the poor people fled Venezuela and only the rich and influential types, who had all their assets tied up in Venezuela’s currency are left to be taxed and starved to death.

    It’s a stupid hatch by which otherwise rational people let their brains escape on flights of fancy.

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  7. In China, if you type or utter one wrong word, the Communist Party might eliminate your financial services.

    This is sounding darkly familiar.

    1. I think you get 140 wrong characters here before they pull your banking services.

    2. I can see why crypto would be popular with Chinese billionaires and millionaires. It’s easier to memorize a few passwords than to sneak a bag full of gold coins through customs. Just don’t forget the passwords later….

      1. 12 words can protect your wealth across time and space.
        It’s practically indistinguishable from magic ????

    3. ^THIS; With recent lefty developments you can throw the USA into the same totalitarian regime. Its surprising Democratic voters remain completely ignorant of this.

  8. “Bitcoin is protecting human rights around the world”

    *checks 2020*
    Umm…

  9. We’ll see how that works out, but if they think you have any digital currency they can always kneecap you to get the passwords. You still have to file taxes and answer that question, and if you lie they’ve got you.

    1. We’ll see how that works out, but if they think you have any digital currency they can always kneecap you to get the passwords.

      When crypto can stop a bullet, then it will truly be revolutionary in making people free.

      1. You gotta start somewhere, changing our definition of how money is created seems a good place to try..

        1. It’s not changing anything other than burning through more electrons. It’s as revolutionary as in-store credit or in-game purchases.

          1. What if you’re wrong again..

    2. We good fam. I pay CGT taxes as well..

  10. And along the way it’s making quite a few of us very very rich.

    Those with the courage to put their money where their mouths are have been vindicated as the dollar continues its fall to its natural value of zero.

    1. ???? what a ride!

      Seeing the same comments on Bitcoin articles as 8 years ago makes me both amused and slightly sad for the posters. Imagine not understanding how Bitcoin works in the year 2021 ????????

      1. You mean the posts about how it’s going to end tyranny and make us all free in the current era of COVID lockdowns? I agree, it is stupid and sad.

        Imagine, in 2021, not understanding that bitcoin is and always was as politically transformative as stock certificates.

        1. I don’t think many people really thought BTC would overtake the dollar as the reserve currency of the world.

          We just thought it was a way to protect our wealth while they printed the dollar into oblivion.

          So far so good.

          1. I don’t think many people really thought BTC would overtake the dollar as the reserve currency of the world.

            So it will end tyranny and supercede fiat money by not overtaking/displacing a/the fiat currency? I don’t care if you lie to yourself. Don’t lie to me.

            We just thought it was a way to protect our wealth while they printed the dollar into oblivion.

            And, per above, unless you mean “yet another way” it is pretty much as dumb as the assumption that BTC would overtake the dollar. You’re (or would be) little different from the narrow-minded preppers and cash hoarders of the 1930s. As long as you’ve got your net worth cryptographically secured under the mattress, banks and the government can fall, grocery stores can go empty of toilet paper and other necessities, network ownership and regulation can undergo upheaval, but you’ll be OK, you own bitcoins.

            1. So it will end tyranny and supercede fiat money by not overtaking/displacing a/the fiat currency? I don’t care if you lie to yourself. Don’t lie to me.
              ——————-
              I never said it would, so……..?

              And, per above, unless you mean “yet another way” it is pretty much as dumb as the assumption that BTC would overtake the dollar. You’re (or would be) little different from the narrow-minded preppers and cash hoarders of the 1930s. As long as you’ve got your net worth cryptographically secured under the mattress, banks and the government can fall, grocery stores can go empty of toilet paper and other necessities, network ownership and regulation can undergo upheaval, but you’ll be OK, you own bitcoins.
              ———————-
              cool story bro

  11. bitcoin isn’t the first universal truly digital currency, but it’s the first one that worked.

    https://www.lopp.net/bitcoin-information.html

  12. Discussions of bitcoin as an alternative payment system, or medium of exchange, or dollar replacement just never seem to die. We have plenty of efficient payment systems to choose from today. We don’t need another one and bitcoin’s role within these existing payment systems is little more than a sideshow. And the US dollar as world reserve currency isn’t going to change any time soon. Bitcoin doesn’t need to effect, change or replace any of those things to have value because its primary role is an alternative form of custody for cash.

    Bitcoin is like a decentralized, central bank. This will become even more obvious when it moves past the volatile phase of its existence. It has all the same characteristics (custody, transfers, issuance and policy making). The big one is the custodial framework. Some folks push back on the issuance part, but it still holds up quite well.

    Some people claim BTC is getting a lift as a hedge against inflation. But inflation as currently calculated, or miscalculated, is nowhere in sight. Bitcoin rose to where it is now with almost no hype from anybody. It’s only getting attention now because it suddenly appears on the radar of those who ignore it until it reaches new heights. And when they weigh in, it’s almost always the same crap they dished out on the last rise.

  13. Many human rights groups currently use encryption to protect their files and to monitor activities concerning the freedom to use cryptography around the world.

  14. “An escape hatch from tyranny”….As long as bitcoin or other crypto doesn’t have tyrannical goals to be the only currency in existence, then I can agree with that. It certainly remains to be seen. I’m sticking with USD in the meantime. Period.

  15. “Escaping Tyranny” seems to be 4-Times as important to the free-market EXACTLY when Democrats took control of the U.S. Government………….

    Hmmm; The people just might be saying something there.

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