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Snowden’s ‘big brother’ legacy extends into the world of crypto

·3 min read

Edward Snowden shocked the world when he lifted the lid on government mass surveillance, with revelations of intensive monitoring and observation of internet traffic forever altering the dynamic between state and internet user.

The problem hasn’t gone away. Indeed, in many instances, state surveillance of internet communications has been extended.

In the UK, the Investigatory Powers Act of 2016 – the so-called ‘snoopers charter’ – legalised powers for surveillance of internet traffic (without a warrant) for numerous unexpected agencies including the Scottish Ambulance Service, the Food Standards Agency, and even the Gambling Commission.

Theo Goodman, the lead behind the Nymtech blockchain, explained how increased surveillance doesn’t miss the crypto industry, which is likely of high interest to tax authorities and in some instances police investigations globally.

“The NSA can harvest and process crypto meta-data,” he explained.

“They want to know when internet interactions are being made, who is sending them, and how big the data packets being sent are.

“They don’t want to know if you’re Manchester United or Manchester City, they just want to put together the big picture of information being sent between people”.

Indeed, traditional privacy networks such as Tor are no longer effective, constrained in growth by lack of operator incentives – and increasingly corrupted by ‘poisoned nodes’ – which effectively act as honey pots by intelligence agencies.

“If they’re not censoring they’re definitely collecting meta-data,” Goodman added.

Surveillance capitalism

Goodman is a key member of a project called NYMtech – which is working to create a blockchain-based Tor alternative to incentivise node operators through network native NYM token, and offers superior privacy infrastructure through a ‘mix net’.

Mix nets are only possible now due to the exponential increase in computer speed over the past decade.

They effectively work by burying transactions in a mix of other metadata – other transactions, social media traffic, randomised data – the goal is to completely obscur not just the specific transactional details but to completely alter the metadata being extensively collected by intelligence agencies.

And while privacy coins are able to help address the privacy issue, governments intent on observing the on and off ramps of crypto will be able to regulate and force compliance, hence the need for a decentralised privacy network.

The idea clearly has venture capitalists excited, as many speculate about the potential of surveillance capitalism as the next big thing in the internet space.

Nymtech has already received financial backing to the tune of $2m from Binance Labs in a kickstart to the project.

“We recently got funding from Andreessen Horowitz (a16z),” proclaimed Goodman.

“This shows that at least the crypto part of A16z no longer asleep.

“They need to get in on the privacy wave – the next wave of things to happen in this space”.

Goodman’s privacy toolbox

Asked to recommend some privacy tools for the everyday crypto user Theo Goodman was quick to suggest the following toolbox.

“If you want to share everything you do with people, why don’t you live in a glass house?” he said, beginning his list…

  • A good private wallet such as Samurai wallet or Wasabi wallet

  • Bisk network as a decentralised exchange solution

  • Don’t be afraid to use Tor as part of your tool kit

  • Signal’s end-to-end encryption is a decent tool

  • VPNs are essential but almost all have downsides or a controversy

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