On the heels of the Biden Administration’s report on technical possibilities for a US-backed digital currency, a dozen civil society organizations including the ACLU and Fight for the Future are launching a campaign calling on President Biden to preserve the inclusive, human rights respecting qualities of cash in any efforts to create a digital dollar.
The effort, NoSpyCash.com, responds to the US joining 100+ countries in considering the creation of a digital dollar that would function similarly to a debit card—but managed by the government instead of a financial institution. It posits that if the US is to have government-backed digital cash, it must be a trustworthy public good, offering at least as much accessibility, privacy, and permissionlessness as physical cash.
On the NoSpyCash.com campaign page, individuals can sign a petition to be delivered to President Biden and learn more about the human rights hopes and perils of such an effort.
This campaign launch begins a sustained effort to ensure that the US government considers the crucial need to promote human rights and justice by design in any digital dollar it may develop—including powerful encryption to ensure user privacy, not just legislation that can be altered or ignored at the whims of government or law enforcement.
The campaign comes on the heels of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issuing a new report that promotes the idea of a certain sort of digital currency—a CBDC issued by the Central Bank rather than a digital dollar from the US Mint—and one that has government surveillance and control built in.
In response to the OSTP report, Fight for the Future’s Campaigns and Communications Director Lia Holland (they/she) said: “The Biden Administration is betraying the basic human rights of everyday people if it continues to treat privacy as an afterthought and recommend that personal identity verification be required for a government-issued digital cash equivalent. We cannot let the privacy and accessibility of cash become a thing of the past, especially as a digital dollar may be used to distribute public benefit income, tax returns, and paychecks to marginalized groups without identity credentials or those that choose to safeguard their privacy. Yet, this report goes a step further—it points toward a technology by which a current or future administration might impose a plethora of restrictions on the finances of everyday people, including the ability to spy on their every transaction in the name of identifying potential crime. This is a worst-case scenario when it comes to creating a human rights promoting digital dollar that could offer us the privacy rights we’ve had in cash transactions for literally thousands of years. If this is not what the Biden Administration intends, they need to clarify immediately.”
Supporters of the campaign issued the following statements:
Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst at the ACLU (he/him):
“A government digital currency shouldn’t allow tax-avoiding billionaires to hide transactions – but it must protect the privacy of ordinary people and ordinary transactions. We shouldn’t expect digital cash to be more crime-proof than regular cash — and it’s not worth giving up all our financial privacy for that goal.”
Mariah Grant, Director of Research and Advocacy, The Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center (she/her):
“The benefits of a digital currency are lost if it comes with surveillance and censorship. For sex workers, it is particularly critical that they be able to safely and securely use digital cash. Due to unjust criminalization of some types of sex work along with societal stigma, sex workers privacy is crucial. We see that even when sex workers are engaging in completely legal activities they are burdened with discrimination from financial institutions. Making a digital currency that surveils users puts sex workers at risk and erodes equitable access.”
Sean O’Brien, Founder, Privacy Lab at Yale ISP (he/him):
“Financial privacy is essential to personal autonomy and any proposal for digital currency must empower the public with true anonymity. Cash is king for good reason – it provides protection from predatory surveillance and profiling. Any government-backed digital currency must provide the same shelter from prying eyes. If not, then the most vulnerable in our society will pay the highest cost, figuratively and perhaps literally.”
Lia Holland, Campaigns & Communications Director at Fight for the Future (they/she):
“For far too long, the federal government has allowed our privacy rights to be eroded by corporations that care about profit, not human rights. A digital dollar could, for the first time, strike back and regain lost ground in keeping invasive and inappropriate surveillance out of our personal lives and spending choices—or it could make everything ten times worse. Activists of all stripes must stand with marginalized people who are traditionally the most harmed by financial surveillance and censorship and resist any attempt to create a digital dollar that spies on abortion patients, activists, journalists, and everyday people alike.