Chris’ note: As I’ve been putting on your radar, a new type of money system is coming. Instead of bills and coins in a physical wallet, the new U.S. dollar will be digital-only. The Fed will issue it directly via a wallet app on your smartphone.
This may sound convenient. But as I’ve been warning, it will give the government the power to monitor, track, and analyze every transaction you make.
Our tech expert, Jeff Brown, has been tracking this urgent story for his readers. In the Q&A below, he reveals why the digital dollar is not only inevitable, but also a violation of your privacy.
Chris Lowe: As you’ve been showing your readers, a digital-only U.S. dollar is on the horizon. You say it could mean the government destroying the last shreds of financial privacy we have left. Why so?
Jeff: This is already happening with cryptocurrencies. The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has proposed new regulations about how transactions get reported to the government.
FinCEN is a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. It’s responsible for tackling money laundering and other financial crimes.
And it’s pushing for new laws that would compel crypto wallet companies to keep detailed financial records on the holders of wallets with transaction values greater than $3,000. These records include where the funds originally came from… and where you sent them.
Let’s say you buy a new Tesla with bitcoin, which the company’s CEO, Elon Musk, is making possible. The new laws would compel the company behind your digital wallet to collect all of your personal information. Then it will have to report everything back to FinCEN, as though it were a suspicious transaction.
Chris: I’ve written before about how FinCEN keeps tabs on U.S. citizens opening foreign bank accounts. I’ve also written about how your bank automatically reports to FinCEN any time you deposit or withdraw $10,000 or more in cash.
Jeff: Remember, the technology that powers digital assets – known as a blockchain – is a transparent public ledger. It records every transaction that’s ever happened on it.
With bitcoin, that record doesn’t link your personal ID alongside each transaction… just your wallet ID. But FinCEN will match your personal ID to your wallet ID. That means it can link your transaction to you.
That scares me. Aside from the expense involved in complying with these regulations, it’s a gross violation of privacy.
Imagine if every time you spent U.S. dollar cash, you had to register that transaction in your name. You would no longer be able to simply hand over some notes out of your wallet. You’d be compelled to show ID. The cashier would scan it to connect the transaction to your “account.” The government could then review and analyze those transactions.
Chris: That doesn’t feel right to me. I’m pretty sure it won’t feel right to most of our readers, either.
Jeff: This is what FinCEN’s proposed regulations would mean. A Federal Reserve-issued digital-only U.S. dollar would take things a step further.
Chris: The idea of a digital-only dollar – what our cofounder Doug Casey calls FedCoin – will seem surreal to a lot of folks reading this. That’s probably especially true if they’re older and have used physical cash most of their lives.
Jeff: No doubt. But the Chinese central bank is already rolling out a digital-only version of the Chinese national currency, the yuan.
In 2019, it began testing this new e-currency with national banks and mega-corporations such as Alibaba and Baidu. Then, last October, it began public testing by distributing 10 million digital coins to 50,000 citizens in the city of Shenzhen.
Right now, China’s e-currency is not on a blockchain. It’s completely centralized. But to go global, China will need to use a common framework of blockchain technology. That’s the only way an e-currency can work efficiently across borders.
This has prompted the U.S. to respond. Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, has said the development of a digital-only dollar is a top priority. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and MIT have been working to develop a prototype. They could make research on this project public as early as July.
In short, China is putting the heat on the U.S. We can expect to see some more developments on an e-dollar as soon as the second half of this year.
Chris: What’s in it for the U.S., apart from making spying on citizens’ finances easier?
Jeff: For starters, it would allow the government to “airdrop” digital dollars into citizens’ digital wallets.
Last year, we saw the government mail out stimulus checks to combat the economic crisis imposed by the lockdowns. In many cases, it took weeks for them to arrive and then clear. With a digital-only dollar, the funds would appear instantly in a wallet app on our phones.
The taxman would also have a field day. The IRS, for instance, would be able to track and tax every single transaction we make.
Digital-only currencies are inevitable. China may be the first major economy to take the plunge. But it won’t be the last. And by definition, governments will be able to record, monitor, and analyze every transaction made in an e-currency.
Chris: A lot of folks reading this may say, “So what? I’ve got nothing to hide. Why wouldn’t I let the government track my spending?”
Jeff: If the government takes away this last scrap of privacy… even our most sensitive purchases will become visible. That would expose us to significant risks.
Imagine you have a sensitive – or even embarrassing – health condition. When you buy drugs to treat it, the government will immediately know. That could lead to increased insurance costs… even dropped coverage.
My view on this is simple. It’s wrong to force law-abiding, taxpaying citizens to register their transactions with the government. Many believe this is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. It says the government must get a warrant before conducting a search. In this case, it would be searching through your financial records without a warrant.
Luckily, the blockchain industry is standing up against these proposed regulations. Take crypto exchange Coinbase (COIN) and online payment processor Square (SQ). They’ve both been very vocal in their opposition to the proposed new laws.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a nonprofit digital rights group. It’s called the proposals a gross violation of privacy.
Chris: Aside from heading up four tech investing advisories at Legacy… and free daily e-letter The Bleeding Edge… you’re a member of the Chamber of Digital Commerce. It promotes sensible legislation around bitcoin, blockchain, and digital currencies in the U.S. What’s it doing about these proposals from FinCEN?
Jeff: These proposals are something we’re working hard against. We’re pushing for a healthy regulatory framework. We want laws that allow innovation in the blockchain industry to thrive.
Still, this is something I want all Legacy subscribers to be aware of. If we surrender our right to privacy, it’s unlikely we’ll ever get it back.