Crypto’s One Unassailable Use Case: Helping Human Rights Activists
Attendees at this week’s Oslo Freedom Forum, a 13-year-old annual gathering of human rights and pro-democracy activists, may have wondered if they’d ended up at a cryptocurrency conference by mistake.
At the Oslo Concert Hall, where the forum, hosted by the Human Rights Foundation, took place, Bitcoin creator Jimmy Song’s characteristic cowboy hat could be seen here and there.
Nic Carter, an astute investor and entrepreneur, walked around with an umbrella cane. Laura Shin, an author and podcaster, conducted an on-stage interview with a non-fungible token (NFT) artist. Backstage, Bitcoin and Lightning Network pioneers offered workshops on how to use the money, and crypto CEOs discussed hedging plans for a hypothetical stablecoin ban.
Of course, a crypto conference would not ordinarily include human rights advocates telling firsthand accounts of political tyranny, investigative journalists discussing how they combat propaganda, and cybersecurity experts scanning phones for spyware traces.
However, if you think about it, crypto events may be more about those kinds of things.
While many people see cryptocurrency as a way to make money, others see it as a human rights instrument, giving cumbersome but functional ways to circumvent financial censorship and surveillance, particularly in areas where such measures are common.
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“We’re still able to [transfer money around the world] and fight for freedom,” said Jack Mallers, CEO of bitcoin payments startup Stripe, who was dressed in an orange and violet sweater and wore a “Miracle Academy” hat on stage.
When asked if the activist movement is warming up to cryptocurrency, Alex Gladstein, chief strategy officer at the Human Rights Foundation and curator of the financial freedom track at the Oslo Freedom Forum, said yes. “Many organizations are already using it,” he said, explaining why he included bitcoin content in the training. They do so in some circumstances because of him.
Meron Estefanos, a human rights activist in Eritrea who is assisting victims of human trafficking, says she was first suspicious of bitcoin but warmed up to it after attending Gladstein’s workshops. At the same time, Eritrea’s government was tightening the screws on Hawala, a centuries-old remittance system based on a network of people transporting money across borders.