'Power to the People': Privacy Was the Rallying Cry of Berlin's Web3 Summit

It may seem trivial in some cases, but digital anonymity is no joking matter to American whistleblower and privacy advocate Edward Snowden.

AccessTimeIconAug 22, 2019 at 4:03 a.m. UTC
Updated Sep 13, 2021 at 11:21 a.m. UTC
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It may seem trivial in some cases, but digital anonymity is no joking matter to American whistleblower and privacy advocate Edward Snowden.

“We need someone to be able to post something truly idiotic on the internet and not have it haunt them for the rest of their lives,” he said through a webcam to a crowd of roughly 1,000 at the Web3 Summit in Berlin.

“To be able to engage in private trade is one of the basic human freedoms,” Snowden said during his Tuesday keynote. “On the internet today you can’t do that without incredible technological familiarity.”

While statements pushing for greater data privacy through encryption were by no means new for the former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) contractor, Snowden’s words resonated deeply with the audience, which was comprised mostly of blockchain developers.

And, if the products being demoed in Berlin were any indication, those developers had already heeded the call.

Echoing the need for enhanced privacy measures atop existing blockchains, Harry Halpin, CEO of privacy startup Nym Technologies, said during his Web3 address:

“We want you [the user] to think very seriously about privacy. [Nym] tries to make it technically impossible, and not just legally difficult, to break privacy.”

Also championing the cause of data privacy was cryptocurrency pioneer David Chaum, who unveiled a new cryptocurrency called Praxxis on Tuesday to support his private messaging platform, Elixxir.

“The world ... needs the Elixxir communication technology,” Chaum said in a statement released Tuesday. “It is the only known practical way to shred the metadata that is inevitably created as we live our digital lives.”

The origins of Web3

Privacy is core part of the Web3 movement, said Gavin Wood.

The ethereum co-founder, Polkdaot creator and initial coiner of the term "Web3," took the stage touting the "social vision" of a decentralized internet.

"Let’s empower the individual against much more powerful corporate and state actors, particularly the ones that tend to misuse their powers or start to erode our expectations,” he said

Wood added that the still-aspirational decentralized internet was originally going to be called "The Post-Snowden Web," as outlined in this Wood blog post from 2014.

In this way, Snowden’s debut at Web3 Summit was a full-circle moment: one that reaffirmed data privacy as being on the forefront of the minds of blockchain developers.

“What we need is not just technology but a social movement. The technologists in this room are the core of that movement,” said Nym CEO Halpin, adding enthusiastically as his closing remark:

“All power to the people!”

Edward Snowden speaks via video link at Web3 Summit 2019 (photo by Christine Kim for CoinDesk)


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