Do We Need a Digital Rights Charter?
Allen Taylor
March 17th, 2023

“When in the course of human events ….”

Thus begins the historic document “The Declaration of Independence,” which was effectively a divorce proclamation issued to King George III by American colonials in 1776. After tearing up, poor George, not to be scorned by those to whom he was faithfully anally abusive toward, decided the best way to handle that rebellious lot of ragamuffins was to send some firearms their way.

It wasn’t a parting gift. It was an act of violence.

Five years later, after a brutal defeat at Yorktown, Virginia, the British surrendered and preparations were made to formalize the United States of America as its own nation via the Treaty of Paris.

It would be five years after the treaty before enough states voted to ratify the U.S. Constitution, making it the official law of the land. They’d agreed that nine states were necessary for such ratification and New Hampshire came through. What would come to be called the Bill of Rights was finally ratified in 1991. Twelve Constitutional Amendments were proposed and 10 were accepted.

While the Bill of Rights, or the U.S. Constitution for that matter, is not a perfect document, it did secure a reasonable protection of the citizenry from obtuse tyranny and continues to be a restraining order against government abuses today. More importantly, it has served as a model for similar declarations of human rights since then. Unfortunately, while human rights have extended geographically in the physical worlds, they have not gone very far in the digital world.

Until now.

Why a Digital Rights Charter is Necessary

In my book Cryptosocial: How Cryptocurrencies Are Changing Social Media, I go to great lengths to show how a group of early pioneers in cryptography used their computing skills to advance the right to privacy. It was an uphill battle, and to be honest, despite great efforts by the The Electronic Frontier Foundation, and others, there is still a ways to go.

But there is more to freedom than simply the right to privacy, which isn’t mentioned in the U.S. Bill of Rights—an unfortunate shame.

I have discovered recently that an individual who goes by @punk6529 has written a Global Digital Rights Charter. Like the U.S. Bill of Rights, it is far from perfect, but it is a decent start in declaring what we should all consider important rights for all individuals in today’s constantly connected world. While the charter is not about cryptocurrencies, per se, it’s important to point out that many of its provisions have very clear implications regarding the use of crypto. Those implications are not spelled out enough for my liking, but I’d like to mention them.

First, I like that the author considers it a self-evident truth that individuals have the same rights in the digital realm that they have in the physical. That should go without saying, but … governments.

Any casual observer of history should recognize that even governments with the best of intentions and the broadest of restrictions naturally incline toward abuse of their powers. In the U.S., where limited government is widely and proudly championed, there has been a historic growth in its size, power, and reach. At times, that growth has been larger and at other times smaller but over time the size and strength of the government at all levels has only grown.

Pardon the digression. Back to the digital charter.

Asserting one’s digital rights, while important, certainly isn’t enough to secure them. That requires political action and, in the age of technology, a radical and practical deployment of one’s personal tech stack. That requires knowledge and skill, which many people don’t have. Still, declaring one’s natural rights is paramount.

Declarations in the Global Digital Rights Charter that I consider “on the right track” but certainly not “on target” include the following:

  • Everyone has the right to own, and hold in their own direct and exclusive possession and control, digital objects, without unreasonable burdens. The government shall not have the right to store or access passwords or private keys without due process of law. All other legal or natural persons shall not have the right to store or access passwords or private keys without explicit permission.

I’ve bolded “digital objects” to make a point. This isn’t well defined. Rather, it’s an abstract concept, and I’d rather spell out the variety of digital objects that one might be able to hold in one’s possession. For instance, one might argue that an NFT of Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) is a “digital object,” but it’s also a digital asset—a more common term.

Furthermore, a whitepaper can be considered a digital object, as can an ordinary jpeg of a rocking chair. But these items, in their digital formats, cannot be “held” in a person’s “direct” or “exclusive” possession and control apart from a digital tool of ownership such as a wallet, a digital file storage container, a hard drive, or a similar digital repository. In short, I think this provision needs further clarification.

  • Everyone has the right to be free to transact digital objects, without unreasonable burdens.

The word “transact” implies, to me, a financial interaction. It may not necessarily, but very often it includes buying, selling, or trading items. In that case, this proclamation implies that individuals have a right to use the currency of their choice to conduct such transactions, if those transactions are monetary in nature. I think that should be spelled out.

  • Everyone has the right to privacy in their digital life. The right to privacy also includes the right of everyone to use encryption that is free from back doors or other intentional weaknesses or circumventions in the encryption that are accessible by the government or private companies or individuals. Interpretations of this right should be read broadly and to favor an individual's right to privacy.

Since there are cryptocurrencies whose very purpose is to secure financial privacy, by implication, this proclamation extends to cryptocurrencies and their usage. Therefore, if the Global Digital Rights Charter was adopted by any nation as a law to be respected, that nation would be agreeing to allow its citizens to use privacy-centric cryptocurrencies such as Monero and Dash.

  • Everyone in the digital realm has the right to speak, assemble, practice their religion, conduct scientific and academic research, and petition the government.

Here is another clause that implies the use of cryptocurrencies. Personally, I believe that freedom to assemble includes the right to conduct financial transactions in the currency of choice. That extends to all real-world currencies as well as cryptocurrencies and digital currencies. No government should be allowed to ban the use of cryptocurrencies or prevent their use by its citizens.

  • Everyone has the right to define contractual rights in the digital realm and allow exercise of those rights in a personal or automated manner.

The same applies to contractual rights. Two parties that agree to conduct any type of business transaction should be allowed to conduct that business in the currency—physical or virtual—of their choice.

There is much more that could be said about digital rights. I’m in agreement with the basic premise of the Global Digital Rights Charter. Individuals and businesses have a basic and fundamental right to expect privacy in financial matters and all matters involving digital technology. Those rights extend themselves to the use of cryptocurrencies. As we witness an attack on crypto culture by the financial elites around the world, let us keep that fundamental truth in mind and lobby for these rights to be recognized.

Cryptocracy is a decentralized newsletter published several times a week. I curate the latest news and crypto analysis from some of the brightest minds in crypto, and sometimes offer a little insightful and snarky commentary. Always fresh, always interesting, and always crypto. Original articles on Fridays.

First published at Cryptocracy. Not to be construed as financial advice. Do your own research.

Image credit: Pexels

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