Financial surveillance, privacy and CBDCs: Why are governments going cashless?

When most people think of surveillance, they probably think of cameras on street corners, government agencies collecting emails, or smartphones and smart home devices listening to conversations. But there is another form of government and corporate surveillance that gets less attention but is just as prevalent: financial surveillance.

On Episode 12 of The Agenda podcast, Jonathan DeYoung is joined by Marta Belcher, a cryptocurrency and civil liberties attorney who serves as president and chair of the Filecoin Foundation and general counsel and head of policy at Protocol Labs, which helps develop the Filecoin protocol. The two discuss a wide range of topics, from the ins and outs of financial surveillance in the United States to why governments are turning away from cash in favor of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs).

What is financial surveillance, and why does it matter?

To understand how financial surveillance is carried out in the United States, one must first understand the U.S. Constitution. “The Fourth Amendment basically says, if you want to get information about a person in the United States, you as law enforcement have to have a warrant that has to be signed by a judge based on you having probable cause of suspecting them of a crime,” Belcher explained.

However, under what is known as the “third-party doctrine,” the U.S. government holds that any information voluntarily handed over to a “third party” — such as a bank — can be collected without a warrant or probable cause. Given the amount of customer information banks are required to collect under the Bank Secrecy Act, the government winds up with a significant amount of information on the financial lives of everyday citizens.

Related: Who watches the watchers? CryptoHarlem founder Matt Mitchell explains why surveillance is the enemy

“When you think about today’s world, we live our entire lives through third parties. At any given moment in time, we are sending massive amounts of data to all sorts of third parties,” said Belcher.

“The government can get basically any information about us, and it’s rendered the Fourth Amendment useless.”

However, not everyone cares that such vast amounts of information are collected about them — but should they? “As an advocate for privacy and civil liberties, I encounter this common refrain of, ‘Okay, but why should I care?’” Belcher explained. “I have nothing to hide, and I don’t care if the government sees my financial transactions.”

According to the civil liberties attorney, this is a limited perspective:

“You may think you have nothing to hide right now, but at any point in time, the law could be different. At any point in time, an administration can change. And I think that it is important, and people are starting to understand why it’s important, to be able to make transactions that the government can’t see.”

CBDCs: A cause for concern?

CBDCs are controversial, with some arguing countries must digitize their currencies to remain competitive — while others condemn governments having greater control over everyday people’s finances. Belcher believes that a significant reason governments worldwide are developing CBDCs is to make financial surveillance easier, and that these programs are part of broader initiatives to phase out cash and other untraceable transactions.

“A cashless society is really a surveillance society. And what we’re seeing worldwide is this push to make transactions surveilable. And that includes things like pushing central bank digital currencies.”

According to Belcher, the potential ramifications of adopting CBDCs go well beyond expanded surveillance: “They’re also about control.” She explained that governments could theoretically not only create but revoke money, alongside controlling how and where individuals spend their funds.

“For me, that is terrifying, right?” Belcher said. “For the government to not only have visibility potentially into all of your financial transactions and to really shut down other potential avenues for those types of transactions, but for the government to also be able to revoke money is really terrifying.”

To hear more from Belcher’s conversation with The Agenda — including her experience interviewing Edward Snowden, the benefits of privacy coins and what people can do to challenge surveillance — listen to the full episode on Cointelegraph’s Podcasts page, Apple Podcasts or Spotify. And don’t forget to check out Cointelegraph’s full lineup of other shows!

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This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal or investment advice. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.

Web3 community-building meets music technology at Wavelengths Summit 2023

Web3 has become one of the hottest buzzwords in the music industry, with everyone from independent musicians to major label artists dropping nonfungible token (NFT) collections and throwing concerts in the metaverse. But for many, the actual use cases and potential of these technologies remain shrouded in mystery and confusion.

On May 6, Water & Music held its inaugural Wavelengths Summit, a one-day event bringing together musicians, industry executives, artist managers, researchers and technologists to explore the bleeding edge of music technology and democratize access to information. On the agenda were talks about blockchain-based communities, the growing influence of artificial intelligence on the music industry and the future of artist revenue streams.

Water & Music is a collaborative music technology research network founded in 2016 by writer Cherie Hu as a free newsletter. It has since evolved to encompass a paid membership structure, an extensive online collaboration network and in-person events. Its research often touches upon Web3 and how blockchain impacts the music industry.

“I think the music industry, in particular, has suffered from information silos,” Hu told Cointelegraph. “If you’re trying to figure out how fans interact with your music in a holistic way, it’s actually a huge challenge.” Enter Water & Music, which seeks to empower its community with the knowledge needed to thrive in the digital era.


A central focus of both Water & Music as an organization and its Wavelengths Summit was building a sense of community. The event’s emphasis on the importance of community-building in music and Web3 was ever-present, from the topics chosen for discussion — including sessions titled “Music Community Building and Decentralization: Lessons from History” and “URL to IRL: Uniting Music Communities Online and Offline” — to the way the event itself was hosted and organized.

For instance, Hu opened the summit by laying out four ground rules for positive community-building: “Be kind and respectful,” “Stay critical, “No shilling,” and “Have fun!” She also announced that there would be no panels; instead, experts would facilitate conversations, with audience members encouraged to jump in at any point. Talks on the main stage were accompanied by a large screen displaying live comments and questions from audience members via an app called Slido.

“I think what we were really aiming for is recreating the magic of our Water & Music Discord,” Diana Gremore, Water & Music’s events director, told Cointelegraph. “We have such a thoughtful, articulate, critical, passionate, curious community, so we wanted to do our best to facilitate how that URL community translates into an IRL experience.”

Web3 community building for musicians

Throughout the day, many of the conversations touched on how Web3 and blockchain technologies are being explored in the world of music. During the “Music Community Building and Decentralization” session, participants discussed how online communities such as decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) are the next step in a long history of decentralization.

As pointed out by Austin Robey, co-founder of Metalabel — which is building a blockchain-based platform for collaborative artist releases — on-chain voting and governance are digital versions of what real-world communities have always done. Social spaces are always governed, and communities are always decision-making. And while DAOs may be subject to “code,” real-world communities have always been subject to social “codes.”

The discussion was moderated by Kaitlyn Davies, membership lead at Friends With Benefits — a social DAO for creatives — and head of curatorial partnerships at Refraction — a DAO for artists and creators with a particular focus on live music events. Davies told Cointelegraph that the preexisting decentralization in music communities helps explain why so many in the music world gravitate toward Web3.

“You see a lot of people who have always been interested in decentralized ways of organizing or sort of left-of-center means of organizing look to this technology to keep doing their work — not even to get bigger or to cast a further net but just to enable what they were already doing,” she said, adding:

“Cultivating a scene or a community, that’s really important, and that’s what drives culture. […] My hope still is that decentralized tech helps us do that better and helps us do that in more equitable ways.”

During the “Web3: Balancing Niche and Mainstream on the Road to Adoption” session, participants discussed the importance of first understanding one’s community before launching crypto music projects. Melanie McClain, a Web3 consultant and founder of Blurred Lines — a community of Web3 tastemakers supporting left-of-center Black music — said that if fans want free shows, artists can experiment with NFTs that give collectors free access to concerts. And if the artist blows up, that free-performance NFT will suddenly become much more valuable.

Related: Music NFTs are helping independent creators monetize and build a fanbase

Speaking to Cointelegraph, McClain said that crypto-native and crypto-newbie artists alike could use blockchain tech to build stronger communities, but each approach must be tailored. “They have to be self-aware,” she said. If a musician’s community is not native to Web3, “they might not say words like NFTs or social tokens. They can lead the conversation in other ways while still using the tools in the back end.”

Many facilitators and other attendees expressed that Web3 solutions offer particularly unique advantages for musicians, with Gremore telling Cointelegraph that “one of the biggest strengths of [Web3] is the ability to build community and sustain community.”

Perhaps part of the reason for this is that blockchains are generally designed for efficiency. According to Hu, this allows artists and their teams to better utilize “smart money” — when a musician doesn’t have much money to spend and therefore must use their funds as efficiently as possible.

“In music and Web3, I’m noticing instead of just random artists dropping NFT projects that happen to gain a lot of money, there’s more focus on ‘what’s the actual use case?’” Hu told Cointelegraph. “What is blockchain actually adding to music in a way that makes things easier and not harder from a technical standpoint?”

URL meets IRL

One thing that stood out at the Wavelengths Summit was how many online friends were meeting IRL — in real life — for the first time. Having many internet friends is not unique to crypto, but it is particularly pronounced in the space, given its inherently decentralized nature. For most people, meeting an online friend in person is special, and the summit was designed to facilitate those connections.

The internet allows for a level of community building previously impossible, especially between musicians and their fans. But as Gremore told Cointelegraph, “There’s a magic in IRL that just can’t be replaced.” She added, “URL is where so many of the conversations start happening, and then IRL — it’s a chance to deepen those bonds.”

Summit attendees connect and network during the “Web3 Happy Hour.” Source: Jonathan DeYoung

For Hu, building in-person relationships is critical for the long-term success of Web3 communities. “IRL events make or break trust in a community,” she said. When internet-based communities meet in person, that community’s carefully curated online image disappears, and people see it for what it really is — whether good or bad.

“Events are so important for online communities because if the name of the game is long-term sustainability, that will make or break trust. If it succeeds, it could be a huge kickstarter to a whole new stage or a whole new level for the community or for the brand. But I’ve definitely seen it go the other way around also.”

For those unable to participate in IRL experiences, online ones still offer opportunities, such as allowing fans to connect virtually with their favorite music artists. “I think using virtual things, not necessarily the metaverse but using live-streaming platforms, things like that — I think you can simulate the same thing,” McClain said. “Everybody can participate no matter where they are.”

“I think online spaces are safe havens for a lot of people, and I think that that should never be discounted,” believes Davies. “But I think the power of meeting somebody in person and being like, oh, you’re like a real human being, and we have similar thoughts about this, and maybe a block on a chain helped us find each other — but really what it’s about is us hanging out in person.”

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Ultimately, the main takeaway of the Wavelengths Summit was that community-building is a critical component for success in both music and Web3, and Water & Music intentionally designed its inaugural summit to set an example of how it believes community-building should look.

To close out the day, Gremore shared with the audience that Water & Music wanted attendees to leave empowered — that even though it may seem like the music industry is broken, there is still light at the end of the tunnel. And as the summit revealed, some of that hope may come in the form of DAOs, NFTs or other blockchain-based tools that help artists build community directly with their fans. Or, as Gremore told the audience:

“We’re fucked — but maybe we can do something about it.”

Why anonymity is key to self-autonomy — And how crypto helps freedom movements win

In the mid-2010s, the Islamic State was rapidly advancing through Iraq and Syria, conquering territory and terrifying residents. However, one group of Kurds in Northern Syria representing the de facto autonomous Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, in an area known as Rojava, successfully fought back the Islamic State and captured the attention of the world.

Many people from around the world went to Rojava to fight, but one lesser-known story made ripples in the crypto world: Some volunteers traveled there to help build blockchain and technological literacy and experiment with the potential of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (BTC) to serve as a tool for revolutionary change. After all, Rojava promotes decentralization, autonomy and self-empowerment — sound familiar?

On Episode 10 of The Agenda, hosts Ray Salmond and Jonathan DeYoung were joined by Rachel Rose-O’Leary and Kato, who discussed their work volunteering in Rojava and how those experiences inspired and relate to their current work developing DarkFi, an anonymous blockchain protocol.

Rojava’s blockchain and crypto experiment

O’Leary traveled to Rojava in late 2018 after feeling disillusioned with the crypto space and how far it had seemingly strayed from its early cypherpunk roots. “I was convinced at that time that Rojava was a place where the ideals of crypto were being fielded and tested,” she said. O’Leary was inspired by Amir Taaki, an early Bitcoin pioneer who himself traveled to the region to volunteer.

Meanwhile, Kato first discovered crypto while already in Rojava. “I basically got interested in crypto and in privacy technologies because of the actual need of the people,” he shared. “I saw the actual use cases, and a lot of people at that time already around the world started using crypto for practical means, like for sending money around.”

“If you don’t have a working banking system or you don’t have access, which is true for most of the world, it’s much more efficient. And also especially if you’re facing persecution and political oppression. And often, it’s actually the only way that you have.”

O’Leary spent much of her time “volunteering very much with building educational infrastructure, especially in terms of technology” — including introducing people to crypto and blockchain. “It’s a very interesting environment for crypto because of the fact that there are no banks,” she shared. “Also, there is no state. So, cryptocurrency is a really interesting like financial paradigm for that kind of a context.”

Related: ‘Privacy has become a taboo,’ says crypto-anarchist project DarkFi

When asked about whether crypto education is continuing in Rojava in 2023, Kato responded, “There are technical academies and education centers in Rojava, and even new ones have been opened over the last years.” However, the work remains difficult, as “the war is a huge pressure, not just on technical education but on all social fields.”

Privacy is paramount

Both Kato and O’Leary now work on DarkFi, an anonymous layer-1 blockchain protocol. For O’Leary, privacy is essential for the ability of communities to operate freely and autonomously, and the anonymity provided by encryption represents a 21st-century tool for people to express themselves fully:

“If people are under constant surveillance and monitoring by an enormous surveillance apparatus and a surveillance state, then they’re being prohibited from exercising […] their moral and political society.”

When asked about the future of privacy and whether it’s possible to break free from the mass surveillance paradigm, Kato said that “we’re going to have that struggle for a long time, and for much longer than decades,” adding: “It’s maybe the most fundamental struggle of human society.”

But is there light at the end of the tunnel? Kato believes that through decentralized tools like blockchain, “we have this technology to be able to develop our own financial and economic systems that are actually democratically managed by the people who use them according to what they actually need.”

“There are moments in history where technology reconfigures the nature of power, and the printing press is a very common example,” added O’Leary. “I think we have a similar situation now happening in cryptocurrency, where it’s hard to see now because we’re just at the onset of it. But the basis of power is in the process of being reconfigured by virtue of these technologies.”

To hear more from Kato and O’Leary’s conversation with The Agenda — including their takes on venture capital funding, decentralized finance, and solarpunk vs. lunarpunk — listen to the full episode on Cointelegraph’s Podcasts page, Apple Podcasts or Spotify. And don’t forget to check out Cointelegraph’s full lineup of other shows!

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This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal or investment advice. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.

Africa: The next hub for Bitcoin, crypto adoption and venture capital?

The cryptocurrency space has no shortage of skeptics. While many people criticize the environmental impact of proof-of-work blockchains or the proliferation of scams, one particular argument against crypto often stands out: Blockchain has no real use cases. 

Every two weeks, Cointelegraph’s The Agenda podcast breaks down this critique and explores the various ways blockchain and crypto can help everyday people.

On this week’s episode of The Agenda, hosts Jonathan DeYoung and Ray Salmond chat with Elisha Owusu Akyaw, Cointelegraph’s own social media specialist and host of the Hashing It Out podcast, to break down how Africans are using crypto to strengthen financial inclusivity and potentially turn countries into hubs of technological innovation.

How crypto is helping everyday Africans

According to Akyaw, crypto offers a more convenient, affordable way to send money both regionally and around the world. “Western Union, MoneyGram and all of these money transaction firms or rails have made millions from Africa for so long” by charging high fees, said Akyaw, whereas the cost required to send money via crypto is significantly lower.

Bitcoin (BTC) also offers a better store of value for most Africans than local fiat currencies, Akyaw argued. Speaking on his own experience of living in Ghana, he said that “you can buy Bitcoin and keep it for the next one year or six months. It’s a better hedge against inflation than keeping the Ghanaian cedi.”

Finally, the crypto industry is opening up new opportunities on the continent. “At every point of development, Africa has been left behind,” said Akyaw. But the global nature of the industry and the fact that it’s still in its early development present a unique opportunity to participate and benefit from its growth.

“This is one of the first times where there is a big shift happening and Africans are able to contribute. Africans are able to benefit directly from the shift that is happening without it having to pass through an intermediary, which is usually the state. And I think it’s an amazing thing.”

The next Silicon Valley?

When asked about what it would take for countries in Africa to become “magnets for crypto builders or a new kind of Silicon Valley,” Akyaw pointed to two factors that need to be improved for developers, startups and fintech companies to want to make the continent their home: regulation and infrastructure.

The majority of African countries lack proper regulation, according to Akyaw, while also condemning the use of crypto. This means companies are often unable to obtain licenses to set up shop and residents are dissuaded from interacting with Web3 protocols and firms:

“You can’t get a license. You can’t work with a bank in the country. You can’t do a lot of things. So, it makes no sense for you to come in.”

The other thing that needs to change, said Akyaw, is that electric grids need to be more stable and internet needs to be more reliable. “If you want a lot of Big Tech companies to come in, they must have great, 24/7 electricity. Internet must be awesome because a lot of what we do in the crypto space is virtual.”

To hear more from Akyaw’s conversation with The Agenda — including his backstory, whether outside funding has any negatives and the potential near-term future of crypto in Africa — listen to the full episode on Cointelegraph’s Podcasts page, Apple Podcasts or Spotify. And don’t forget to check out Cointelegraph’s full lineup of other shows!

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Education is key to financial freedom, says Bitcoin advocate Najah Roberts

Can Bitcoin help Black Americans build wealth in a country that has historically and intentionally prevented them from doing so? The Agenda podcast recently sat down with Najah Roberts, a Bitcoin educator and entrepreneur, to explore the question. 

In Part 1 of the conversation, released on Feb. 1, Roberts told hosts Jonathan DeYoung and Ray Salmond that Bitcoin (BTC) might be the greatest opportunity Black Americans have had to close the country’s wealth gap. She stressed the importance of communities having financial sovereignty and control over their own money, which can help uplift entire generations.

In Part 2 of their conversation, released on Feb. 15, DeYoung and Salmond chat with Roberts about building financial literacy, the struggles of operating a community-focused crypto exchange, and how to work with children and youth to prepare them for the blockchain and technology revolution that is already underway.

Self-sufficiency and self-custody

While Bitcoin may offer a path to self-sufficiency, Roberts strongly believes that investment moves must be made in parallel with the best practices of financial literacy: “Never invest more than you can afford to lose. That is a ground rule.” She stressed that Bitcoin is not a “get-rich-quick” scheme — adding to “be very careful in what you invest in because all coins are not created equal, and most of these coins are created to extract money from your bank account.”

Roberts pointed out that financial literacy is rarely a topic taught in schools, and she believes that’s by design:

“If they have people that don’t know better, they won’t do better. And they continue to have people that will work in this country and not really understand that they’re working for money instead of allowing money to work for them. And so the select few that get that memo, they do well. And so, as we continue to get into this new digital space, education has got to be the foundational piece for both children and adults.”

Roberts pushes the importance of education with her brick-and-mortar Bitcoin exchange, which has two elements: The Bitcoin Banq is the for-profit exchange, while Crypto Blockchain Plug is an associated nonprofit educational center that teaches people the ABCs of BTC. However, the entities’ focus on self-custody and not holding customer assets has caused some challenges for Roberts, who explained that it was hard to find a banking partner:

“They told me I had to have $1 million a day minimum. I don’t hold $1 million a day. I’m not doing some of the things that some of these other exchanges are doing to ensure that they’re padding their pockets, because we immediately take the money from the individuals, and we immediately give them their Bitcoin. We’re not holding on to their Bitcoin. We’re teaching them day one to be self-sovereign.”

Crypto is for the children

While many adults remain skeptical about crypto — or simply don’t understand it — Roberts said that children and the youth often have an instinctual understanding of blockchain’s potential. She runs Crypto Kids Camp, an educational program for children and young adults in inner-city and rural areas, teaching participants about cutting-edge technologies like nonfungible tokens (NFTs), virtual reality, drones and more.

In Roberts’ experience, “Digital currency to them is like second nature,” as they are “already using it in video games. They’re buying stuff with Robux, and they’re doing all this other stuff already.”

At the end of the day, what Roberts wants to convey to both the kids and their parents is that learning new technologies opens up new possibilities for growth and success. “All of these things we’re bringing to the children’s mind early,” said Roberts, adding:

“Our children need to be made aware of these technologies so as they grow and as their parents watch them, they’re able to actually maneuver them into the space that’s most important to them and not actually what we want as parents or what we want as teachers, because that does not fare well. […] What we want to do is expose children to every aspect of technology so that they can pick and choose what works or what they like the best. And then that parent can actually take that and have something to build upon.”

To hear more from Roberts, tune in to the full episode of The Agenda on Cointelegraph’s new podcasts page, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or TuneIn — and be sure to check out Cointelegraph’s other new shows as well.

The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the authors’ alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.