Money, speech and freedom

Money, speech and freedom

Summary: Storage is more than bits on a disk. Storage in its broadest sense defines culture. That is what the Bitcoin debate this week has been about.


Big storage and its corollary big data make possible a level of surveillance and recall that 30 years ago was beyond all imagination. Today, hundreds of millions of people and their online identities are subject to the whims of a few people at Facebook, not to mention the NSA and other spy agencies.

These records are assembled for purposes we don't understand by people who are not accountable. Since the Patriot Act even our financial transactions – innocent though they may be – are subject to governmental oversight. Currency is no longer private.

Freedom to forget
This week's Great Debate reflect on the role that storage plays in our culture, both as a form of memory and as a medium for cultural and personal exchange. Freedom is more than our ability to act in the moment, it is also our ability to forget the past.

Why should the rash decisions of our youth follow us undimmed for the rest of our lives? Good decisions are the product of experience, and experience is the product bad decisions. We all have decisions we later wish we had made differently.

The Storage Bits take
There is a bleak literature from once free societies under the control of the Soviet Union. An excellent novel - The Loser by Hungarian writer George Konrád - talks about and reflects upon the corrosive effect of constant surveillance. For movie buffs the German film The Lives of Others is worth watching.

Although several Supreme Court justices don't agree, a right to privacy is it implicit in the Constitution - see the 9th Amendment - and a requirement for freedom. That is why an anonymous global currency is vital to human liberty.

Ultimately money is a tool. How we choose to use it is a moral choice. Our use of money tracked by the state is an indefensible breach of personal privacy and liberty.

Comments welcome, as always. Do you think that freedom of speech and freedom of money are related? For extra credit: should a few billionaires be able to dominate the airwaves during election campaigns?

Topics: Storage, Big Data, Great debate

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  • My take on Bitcoin and the philosophy.

    Philosophical reasons and reality often differ quite a bit because there is a tendency to over-simplify the issue.

    Case in point why has Microsoft dominated the desktop? People can argue about security and technology but in the end miss the real reason. MS got there on the PC first was enterprise friendly (Apple blew it at this point) and there is a huge (in terms of $$$) cottage industry that makes its money selling and contracting and installing Windows.

    Same goes with National currency. It is funny but money is a huge business. The US and other countries make a certain amount of wealth just by manipulating the amount of currency that's out there. Since Bitcoin availability cannot be controlled like this it is really an unwelcome competitor to the various Nations' currency. While philosophically this looks great, practically speaking it creates huge forces against its success. The more success Bitcoin gains the more pressure there will be to undercut its buying power. Since no one can respond quickly (market pressures are slow) to this pressure it becomes competitively disadvantaged. When that happens consistently, ideology aside, most people look elsewhere. Bitcoin creates much of the same type of problem that you get with a gold standard. It is hard to compete in a global market.
    • Regarding cottage industry

      I meant to say that the cottage industry then has a vested interest in keeping MS and windows alive. It is harder for people to make money with linux on the desktop particularly selling to the enterprise. Servers are a different story because services become important.

      In summary with this illustration is if you want to see why something succeeds in comparison to something that might be superior, just follow the money. If people can make more money selling an inferior (note I don't think Windows is inferior but for sake of argument) product than a better product they will sell the inferior one every time. Follow the money. Same with bitcoin. Will bitcoin make nations or even large corporations more money than their own currency? They can't control the former and therefore have no influence on the outcome, that's what will kill it.
    • Good points.

      Those are good points; national currencies are very entrenched. It's gonna take a bit more than "look - cool cryptography technology!" to unseat them.
  • Preaching to the converted

    In the way of freedom:

    - NSA
    - American Government
    - American Corporations (MSFT, APPL, GOOG, ...)

    Solution obvious .. if difficult to implement.
  • Forgot to make you my offer Robin ...

    ... think I've made it to various other ZDNET bloggers who refuse to get to 'the point'.

    I am willing to have protection agencies monitor my every keystroke ... you can install stuff on every one of my PC's ... if you want to see what I am cooking for lunch tonight...

    ... but in return I want 'value for money'. That means all your American IT corporations (at least) have to undergo a HUGE marginalisation exercise. I can tell you how to do it (for free).

    So if you REALLY want safety ... I want the money.
    That's always been the only real issue, right?

    Deal or no deal?

    If you want the money AND the safety ... then it's war!