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Bitcoin is creating a better future for human rights defenders, says Human Rights Foundation CSO Alex Gladstein
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Bitcoin is creating a better future for human rights defenders, says Human Rights Foundation CSO Alex Gladstein

In a recent episode of The Scoop, Chief Strategy Officer of the Human Rights Foundation, Alex Gladstein, discussed the ongoing protests in Hong Kong and how bitcoin could potentially transform the urban protesting environment.

Gladstein joined the Human Rights Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit charity, in 2007 and has been working to address human rights violations in countries from Russia to Venezuela. He said his experience on the ground has convinced him that Bitcoin could exert a larger impact on the human rights scene than previously envisioned.

“Something that is going to decentralize the means of production of money and access to money will be remarkably powerful, especially as we move into a more cashless future where all money will be electronic,” he told The Block.

He used Hong Kong’s ongoing protests against China’s extradition bill as an example. Student protesters, he said, used prepaid cards to make purchases, rather than their normal payment cards to conceal their identities from employers and government agencies. 

“They were lining up in these big queues to use cash to buy one-time use top up cards,” he said. “And it struck me as a really powerful reminder of the essential nature of cash in our ability to protest in an urban environment and hold our government accountable.”

But in 15 to 20 years, when cash becomes extinct, how will these people fight for their rights without exposing who they are? For Gladstein, the answer is clear: “We need a digital version of cash like Bitcoin” – a form of payment that is censorship-resistant and could afford human rights defenders the privacy they need to hold their governments accountable.

Gladstein recognized that Bitcoin is not a “cure-all.” Whether the power of digital currencies will be used for the good or the bad is still unclear. One the one hand, he said, digital assets could help decentralize power and promote access to information and resources. On the other hand, however, Gladstein worries that digital assets could take a controllable form and betray citizens’ private information to surveillance states.

But Gladstein remains optimistic about the future. “At the end of the day, I do believe that financial privacy is essential for a healthy democracy,” he said. “I do very much believe it will be a better society.”

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