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Snowden on Bitcoin: Blasts Public Ledger and Core Developers


The world's most famous whistleblower, Edward Snowden, gave a dynamic, wide-ranging interview to Peter Van Valkenburgh during Blockstack Berlin 2018. Mr. Snowden discussed ongoing issues of privacy and cryptocurrency, his preferences, and revealed how bitcoin helped him in his most historic hour. He also took the opportunity to chide growing crypto tribalism, calling out maximalists, and insisted bitcoin core developers need to up their collective game.

Edward Snowden Gives State of Crypto Remarks

"I don't think bitcoin will last forever […]," Mr. Snowden teased. "The first browser created is not the best browser that we have ever seen. Bitcoin does important work, and I do think it will have enduring value for a long time. But particularly when we look at the core development team and their rate of improvement to the protocol, they simply need to do better or they will not be able to compete."

Right at the 43:00 minute mark, famed crypto legal expert Peter Van Valkenburgh of Coin Center turned the hour long interview to bitcoin. His piped-in guest from Russia was none other than Edward Snowden, erstwhile leaker of massive caches of National Security Agency documents. "Do you have any cryptocurrencies? Do you have any digital money?" Mr. Van Valkenburgh asked of Mr. Snowden. "Are you excited about cryptocurrencies?"

Snowden on Bitcoin: Blasts Public Ledger and Core Developers

Looking every bit like Edward Snowden, charcoal blazer, fashion forward eyeglass frames, Mr. Snowden began, "As a privacy advocate, I would recommend no one ever say that they have cryptocurrencies," he smiled and laughed hoarsely as the audience laughed along and applauded. "I like this audience," he continued. "What I would say is this, when I was working on the great project of my life back in 2013, and trying to figure out things like how could I get this archive of material to journalists […] in a safe way that's uncontrolled, that's unseen, that happens permissionlessly, there is a question of do I need server infrastructure of my own."

In a series of juicy musings combined with a rhetorical question, a wry smile again appeared as Mr. Snowden answered, "Maybe the answer is yes. Okay, how do I pay for that anonymously? Maybe, maaaaybe someone like me may have used bitcoin for something like that. There are a lot of technologies that are here today, that have served our interest in the past, that have never gotten the public shout-outs that maybe they could have [….]"

Bitcoin's Public Blockchain is a Flaw

In what will undoubtedly be the most controversial of his remarks, Mr. Snowden urged, "Everybody is focused on the transaction rate limitations of bitcoin being its central flaw, and that is a major one, but I would argue actually the much larger structural flaw, the long lasting flaw, is its public ledger. That is simply incompatible with having a enduring mechanism for trade. You cannot have a lifelong history of everyone's purchases, all of their interactions, be available to everyone and have that workout well at scale. The limitations of how people engage with these cryptocurrencies are the limiting factor on the apocalypses we've had from it so far, a natural relief of pressure on it."

On the subject of which cryptocurrency he favors, he revealed, "When we talk about which cryptocurrencies are interesting to me, I've said before and I'll say again, Zcash, for me, is the most interesting right now because the privacy properties of it are truly unique. We see more and more projects that are trying to emulate this, and I think this is a positive thing. Monero is out there, and I've used Monero just like everyone else."

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