Key Points from Snowden's Speech at Bitcoin Amsterdam 2023

"Bitcoin has a privacy problem. Everybody knows it, and for as many years as I've been giving these talks now, it is still on fix. The world has a privacy problem."

Key Points from Snowden's Speech at Bitcoin Amsterdam 2023

Here are some of the key points from the speech:

  • "I can feel a little bit of excitement returning to the space. And there are a lot of people I'm sure you're here today talking about price. If you look at crypto Twitter, it feels like the only thing that people care about is price. And for me, there are two ways to judge that."
  • "One is to say that price is the only thing that people will ever care about. And while that's true for some, I don't think that the system ever attains the level of success that we've seen, and it doesn't attain the level, doesn't attain the price level that is driving the interest that we see going on with all these people, you know, heavy breathing over the amount of green papers per token that we have today, as a consequence of speculation alone. It has to come from somewhere, it has to mean something in order for people to be interested in the first place."
  • "So the other possibility, if it's not pure speculation, is that there's not much else going on, where that's the perception. And so the sort of new capabilities, the new possibilities, the things sort of the tech for the people who are in it for the tech, has been unable to successfully compete for attention. And that worries me."
"That worries me because the word is ending. And we're playing games. If you look at any headline, if you look outside of the computer, if you go outside, look at prices not denominated in Bitcoin, when you look at them in your local currency, everything is going crazy."
  • "We can't escape that unless we have a better solution or unless we play that game better, right? The reality is we assumed the system would continue to operate under certain constraints and certain directions for sort of the way the world functions. And those functions have been hacked. And we're still here playing, find the price."
  • "A central political problem today is that there aren't a lot of people that are willing to say, you know, future and happiness or the grave. People are not willing to put that much on the table to that much skin of the game. And there are far fewer who, even if they were willing to do that, are able to push that argument credibly, right? Because people have to believe that you mean it."
"I think we need to remember, particularly in these moments of instability, that we are all part of a much bigger game. And Bitcoin is one of our strongest levers in that. The systems that we are influencing, that we are exerting leverage on, payments and finance, will shape what the world of tomorrow looks like."
  • "Now, we have to cross some purpose to get there in a meaningful way. Right now, the reason everybody's getting excited about prices, they're thinking about ETFs or whatever. We don't really want that to be the thing that moves price, even if price is moving. Because that is a kind of support nation. That is a kind of subjugation. That is a process of taming that we see being played out."
"Bitcoin has a privacy problem. Everybody knows it, and for as many years as I've been giving these talks now, it is still on fix. The world has a privacy problem."
  • "Okay, so what do you do about it? People in the room, oh, let me do coinjoin. I'm going to erase this by shuffling these around and I'll do 200 levels of mix-ins or something like that. Cool, yes. I am proud of you for knowing that it's possible, but no stop. That's not what we're looking at. Contorting yourself to be able to fit, to pass through the keyholes of the tyranny that is surrounding us. That's not the solution."
"The goal is not to wake up in the morning and be blessed with the perfect suite of knowledge and skills that will allow you to dance through the Byzantine hell, the smartphones, evil and visible, perfidious network traffic that is diming you out to everybody they can without asking your permission."
  • "It comes from the collective, there has to be a mass, there has to be enough people. And the more exclusively, the more exclusive your community becomes because of the burden of knowledge that it requires to participate in it, the smaller that collective will necessarily be."
  • "[Surveillance] is inside the room. It's on your phone, it's in your pocket, it's on the Wi-Fi. It's the cameras that watch you walk into the venue to now have vehicle recognition and person recognition baked into the algorithm. It's on the chip. It doesn't even cost the manufacturer anything extra to add in. They just got to enable it in the software. It is everywhere. And the thing that I want you to take away from all that is that the acting in secret is not freedom."
  • "It's not the goal. It's not that we want to liberate ourselves as the individual. We want to liberate that the collective individual and accepting that it's normal for there to be processes out there where you have to submit, you know, a notarized photo of your taint."
"That's not freedom. The necessity of coinjoins and so on. That is because you are unfree. That is proof of funds. That is proof of unfree."
  • "And we do have people who have worked on this. They've done amazing things. You know, there's the Tornado Cash problem where you have governments beginning to go after these developers and try to jail them for doing the right thing. And you know, you have on-chain panelists who are going, oh, you know, some bad person use this tool. And so you got to go after the developers. Developers got to shut this down. That's not how it works, you know."
"When you build roads, the person who laid the asphalt is not responsible for the people who drove down the road. And if we buy into that as a community, if we start enabling that as a community, we're making not just the world worse for ourselves, making it worse for everybody else. What we need to do is we need to recognize that the challenges that we're facing are great. And that there is going to be risk in building solutions."
  • "That's where all the opsec can come in handy because you might not be able to teach everybody in the world how to protect their identity, how to sort of protect their communications, how avoid being identified through their on-chain transactions or whatever, but you might be able to do that for yourself."
"And if there's enough of you, you know, two or three of you, that's all it takes. Perhaps even one person, like Satoshi, Maybe your identity will never be known, even if they are looking for you, even if all of them are looking for you."
  • "Bitcoin is an enormously powerful, uh, enormously useful. That's as it is. If we think about Bitcoin as how it was, there was a time when everybody thought big payments were private, right? Just because there wasn't a name on the account. We know it's not. That level of sophistication creeps up. The ledger is always out there. The ways it would be applied and exploited will only grow."
"So what I mean is our space is being cut off. The space for invention, space for creation, space for transaction has been narrowed and it's continuing to be narrowed. And at what point do we respond? At what point do they see our response? At what point do they stop marching off our developers to prison? And at which point do we start taking their authorities away?"
  • "Because that is what Bitcoin set out to do. You know, if you remember the Genesis block, what was behind it, we see the risk of bank failures growing as the certain rate of bond losses. We're about to have another moment of systemic unease. And I don't think the pitch that we are offering to the work is ready for it. But it could be. It should be. And it can be. "
  • "New and exciting things are still being created. One of the things I've been really interested in recently is Nostr."
  • "The thing that's so important about the Nostr is that it is trying from the beginning to conceptualize the integration of free speech and free trade. The open instant immediate payment is a world changing idea. And so we're here today gathered in this room with the world ending behind us. But if we're lucky, we have an idea right now. And you have ones that nobody's heard of that could be world starting. So let's get to it."

Watch the full speech here:

  • Check out other Bitcoin Amsterdam 2023 talks here.

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