Richard Stallman Speaks on Cryptocurrency, Blockchain, GNU Taler, and Encryption

Richard Stallman

In a 92-minute lecture on Wednesday about the current status of the movement for free software, Richard Stallman gave a lengthy talk about a myriad of subjects, which included the necessity of freedom-friendly packages.

However, Stallman also offered his most profound thoughts on a subject that is dear to the hearts of Slashdot readers: the privacy of currency and privacy:

I will not purchase anything online from stores because I’m not able to pay for it. One reason is that payment systems require not-free JavaScript. For remote payment, you must pay via credit card. It’s tracking individuals, and I’d like to avoid being tracked too. This is a major issue for our society since you aren’t able to purchase items remotely in a secure manner.

However, GNU Taler will be an important step towards making it easier to fix the issue. You’ll be in a position to acquire a Taler token at the bank you use, or even a collection of Taler tokens. Then, you’ll be able to use the tokens to pay without revealing your identity.

If the store is able to deliver the item you purchased to a delivery location within your area, the store won’t have to be aware of who you are.

There’s a second issue Stallman touched upon in his earlier talk:

There’s an upcoming U.S. law called KOSA that will require age verification of users, which translates to the identification of all users being mandatory, which could refer to facial recognition. It would be integrated into every commercial software programme or electronic service that is connected to the internet… It’s supposed to safeguard children. This is one of the most popular justifications for surveillance, repression, and monitoring: to guard children. If it really does protect any person, however, they do hope that they won’t be able to check. It’s always possible to offer a totally ineffective method that will oppress everyone.

Instead, Stallman suggests age verification can be done in… GNU Taler:

If there’s a service that requires cash, or even a small amount, and is only available to those older than 16, or older than 18, or whatever the case is, it is possible to get at your bank the Taler token that states that the person who is using this token is older than 16. The bank has confirmed this. The site then requires an over-the-limit Taler token. Your age is confirmed, but the site doesn’t know what you’re actually doing.

However, that’s not the case when age-based tracking systems that identify users are now legalized. The code for Taler is functional, but it’s not fully integrated into the bank to ensure that users can actually begin using it in real-world companies.

After the question and answer discussion, Stallman was asked whether the GNU Taler account could be suspended or even frozen. “No,” Stallman answered. “Because it’s not the real account.”

There are coins with the signature of a person to prove they’re genuine. They’re not linked to you. You’re the only one to have them. However, they’re in no way identified as belonging to you. Therefore, there’s no reason to stop you from using the money.

A second question later asked for Stallman’s thoughts on blockchain technology and cryptocurrency—and whether they might someday take over banks. “I do not think so.” Stallman replied.

There are some things I do not like about cryptocurrency, which are used in the present. One of them is that I’m not sure it’s a good idea that the person who pays you is anonymous. This allows for easy ways to conceal wealth and avoid taxes, which is a major global issue. You’ve probably seen the news of scandals when bank data is exposed—a variety of banks. (There has been one incident in Switzerland just recently, and prior to that there was Panama, and I believe there was a Caribbean Island.) Then you discover that some wealthy people buy properties in private ways to make sure they don’t have to pay taxes on them, and in the end, they are able to steal the property.

There has been a lot of effort underway to make this easier since Russian billionaires were found to be involved in this. However, it’s not just their billionaires, but billionaires from all countries that would like to deprive the majority of the population. What we have to do is modify the legal frameworks that make it possible for people to own property without telling the government who is actually the owner.

Apart from that, the fact that cryptocurrencies aren’t secure enough. With bitcoin , you’re not required to reveal the owner of a wallet. However, every transaction can be traced, and in many cases, it is possible to identify—as the information is publicly available—who is the real owner of the wallet.

Now , with Taler, it is only the payer who is known to the payer. The recipient must be able to identify itself in every transaction. Therefore, a Taler isn’t a way to conceal wealth. However, Taler remains anonymous to the person who paid for it. The developers are certain that there is no way to determine the identity of Taler itself, who was the person who made the payment. Now, if you’re speaking to a website, then you must check the other systems for purchases to ensure it’s really anonymous. It could be that you’ll need to make the purchase via Tor. Of course, the website shouldn’t transmit any JavaScript, as JavaScript can be used to obtain more details.

And lastly, Stallman also had some ideas about the security of VPN software and the greater world of encryption.

One area in which we see plenty of security concerns is the ability to utilise encryption from beginning to end. In fact, there’s a document known as the “Digital Markets Directive” in the European Union that requires interoperable encryption. That is, different communications services will need to utilise the same encryption technique so they can communicate with each other in a secure way.

It’s being described by commercial companies as a failure—but is it really? The companies that provide complete encryption to their customers using their own encryption software aren’t relied on! You shouldn’t use a programme that isn’t free! There’s always someone who’s in a position to bribe you in secret. It’s extremely difficult to find out. This is the case for any website that encrypts data and also sends programmes to the browser for the encryption as well as the decryption. The software is completely in the hands of the website. Researchers who study the topic of encryption suggest that you use only free software for this, as it is able to be thoroughly studied by experts to confirm that it functions reliably and is safe. In addition, if it is free software, this means that no business can perform a heinous act. As we see it, every programme should include protection against the creator of every program, and only free software can achieve this.

This means that you shouldn’t use encryption and decryption tools that are included in an app. But no. You must use encryption and decryption software that is installed on your system in order that diverse websites and applications are able to use it and so they are interoperable. The answer to interoperability is also a solution to your freedom. Allow the user to download the encryption programme they want to use, then choose which one to use, and then, we can select free encryption programmes that can work in conjunction with all websites.

It’s true that it’s not easy to be sure that things actually go in this manner. It’s likely that we’ll need to advocate for it. However, when you know what secure end-to-end encryption is, you will realise that it is the best friend of interoperability. It’s the advantage of using the same safe, free encryption software for each service or programme for communication.

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