Edward Snowden's Growing Crypto Influence

Edward Snowden exposed major mass surveillance programs in 2013. Since then, Snowden has spoken out as a proponent of digital freedom from his virtual exile in Russia. While his opinions about cryptocurrency are nuanced, Snowden is making moves in the crypto space. The recent auction of an NFT titled 'Stay Free' for over $5 million is the clearest example of that.

Stay Free features a ghostly portrait of Snowden amidst important legal documents. A signature is featured prominently at the bottom of the image. It's overall a nice and clean looking NFT. The final sale price of 2,224 ETH is incredible. These funds will all be donated to the Freedom of the Press Foundation, an organization with which Snowden is deeply involved.

The purchaser of Stay Free was not an individual, but a group that calls itself PleasrDAO. According to Decrypt, "PleasrDAO bought the Snowden NFT because Snowden, who blew the whistle on the NSA's surveillance program in 2013, changed the rules of the game for transparency, according to the DAO - an ideal its members staunchly support."

Ethereal Summit Talk

Snowden spoke with Marta Belcher, special counsel to digital privacy non-profit the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as part of this year's Ethereal Summit. They talked at length about cryptocurrencies and sharply criticized central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). One point Snowden made several times was that he thinks Bitcoin should become a privacy coin.

While mentioning Monero's so-so privacy and voicing support for Z-Cash, Snowden criticized Bitcoin for being so transparent. "Bitcoin is really failing comprehensively, terribly, on the privacy angle," he said. From my perspective, Bitcoin's transparency is a feature, not a bug. I nonetheless take Snowden's argument seriously.

In the legacy economy, financial institutions perform mass surveillance on their customers and report their findings to governments on request. Flows of cash may be tracked at the level of the individual note. Phones report various forms of personal data to many companies. The idea that crypto might provide a safe haven from all of this snooping is compelling. But I'm not sure modifying Bitcoin's code is the right solution to this problem.

On crypto in general, Snowden said:

"The most important part of the space is that it allows us to recapture some of the liberty that's been lost over the last fifty years."

This quote is very closely aligned with my perspective. And it is inspiring to hear one of the world's foremost proponents of liberty publicly airing these sentiments. Technological advancement has too often been used to curtail freedom by the governmental and corporate entities comprising our control regime. But crypto is different, and Snowden seems to know it.

There are powerful forces behind CBDCs and other attempts to move us toward a cashless society where mass surveillance is even more ubiquitous. One major issue with CBDCs that Snowden pointed out is the ability to program expiration dates or other control measures directly into these currencies themselves. But even in the absence of such control measures, CBDCs are like crypto without the most important part of crypto, which is freedom from central banks and misbehaving governments.

The wild success of his NFT sale suggests Edward Snowden knows what he's doing in the crypto space. And his increasing willingness to talk publicly about this space strikes me as a very good thing. Snowden may not yet be viewed as a major crypto influencer. His comments are unlikely to crash the price of Bitcoin or pump the price of Doge. But Snowden isn't just talking about price or hyping a pet project. He's talking about how the tech might make people more free, which seems far more important.