Crypto’s “Freedom to Transact” May Actually Threaten Human Rights

Essay by Elizabeth M. Renieris: “What began as a small convoy of truck drivers protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates in late January quickly grew to a large-scale protest blocking nearly $350 million a day in trade and crippling the transport of vital supplies across the US-Canada border for more than three weeks. After struggling to disband the protestors, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time since its passage in 1988, compelling financial institutions to freeze the assets of protesters and urging local cryptocurrency exchanges not to process transactions from 253 bitcoin addresses suspected of supporting their efforts. Cryptocurrency promoters responded with outrage, siding with truckers, and calling Trudeau’s actions authoritarian, even comparing the Canadian prime minister to Hitler.

Days later, Russian President Vladimir Putin plunged the world into geopolitical instability with a full-scale unprovoked military invasion of Ukraine, resulting in mounting civilian causalities and sparking the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War. Fearing the ramifications of a military response, governments around the world imposed an array of targeted financial sanctions, freezing and seizing the assets of Russian politicians and oligarchs, blocking transactions with Russia’s central bank and removing others from the SWIFT international payments network. Companies, including legacy payment processors Mastercard and Visa and tech platforms Apple Pay and Google Pay, followed with similar measures. However, as with the Canadian truckers, cryptocurrency exchanges have resisted similar steps, even when implored by Ukrainian officials, with one CEO remarking that sanctioning Russian users would “fly in the face of the reason crypto exists” — namely, for the “freedom to transact.”

As recently summarized by one journalist, the freedom to transact is a core tenet of crypto-libertarian ideology whereby “the individual is sovereign, and the state has no authority to limit what a person can do with their assets, digital or otherwise,” and money is magically apolitical. An extension of the same school of thought that elevates economic freedom above all other social, cultural and political interests, the freedom to transact is increasingly invoked by cryptocurrency promoters and right-wing politicians, who share similar ideological leanings, in response to measures by governments and private sector actors to impose political consequences through economic means, including in situations such as the Canadian truckers’ blockade or Russia’s recent assault on Ukraine…(More)”.