Fed Chair Powell: Digital Dollar Would Need Stronger Privacy Than Digital Yuan

“The lack of privacy in the Chinese system is just not something we could do here,” Powell told a House committee.

Mar 24, 2021 at 9:01 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 12:31 p.m. UTC

China’s central bank and the U.S. Federal Reserve agree that a fully anonymous national digital currency is not feasible. But Fed Chair Jerome Powell believes when a digital dollar is developed it must provide users with more privacy than the People’s Bank of China's (PBOC) planned digital yuan. 

“The lack of privacy in the Chinese system is just not something we could do here,” Powell said while testifying before the House Committee on Financial Services on Tuesday. “We’re only beginning to think carefully about these things and it's going to be a careful, detailed and probably lengthy process of consideration.” 

Powell’s comments came after Changchun Mu, the head of PBOC’s digital currency arm, was reported as claiming the digital yuan will offer greater privacy protection than any other digital payment system. 

The Chinese official said the digital yuan will have “controllable anonymity,” in which the most private account would only require a cell phone number. However, people need to register with a phone service carrier with their ID to have a phone number. Users would also have to disclose more personal information if their deposit amount hits a certain threshold. 

The Fed has not specified how much anonymity any digital dollar would allow users to have, in part because there is no concrete timetable for a digital dollar. While there will be detailed research on the proposed stablecoin coming out as early as July, Fed officials have yet to disclose whether the central bank would host customer accounts or enlist a trusted third party, and what privacy protections users would have in case of a breach. 

Powell said he agreed with Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), who said during the hearing an anonymous, untraceable digital dollar "is not a viable option for our country or free world" because of the potential for money laundering or funding terrorism.

Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who also testified before the committee, have voiced their concerns in recent months about how cryptocurrencies could be used for such illicit transactions because of their anonymous nature. 

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