8 DECEMBER 2022 | OPINION
As I sat listening to Toby Young galvanise a crowd of concerned and disaffected British citizens, it became very clear to me that the issue of central bank digital currencies and digital IDs are some of the most animating issues of our time. And yet, there is a distinct absence of conversations on such issues in Westminster.
There appears to be very little will among politicians and mainstream pundits to discuss the issue of who, if anyone, should have access to the personal data of British citizens. Conversations around the tyranny that technologies like central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) and digital IDs would enable have no presence in Westminster.
Is this because of genuine ignorance, or because of a conspiracy of silence by those who would seek to use the tremendous data-gathering power of such systems for their own authoritarian ends?
I would be inclined to lean towards the latter.
The atmosphere at #TogetherDeclaration’s event, entitled “What, No Cash?”, was electric. It was very clear that there is a large yet disparate section of the British public who are fed up with the technocratic, managerial style of politics that has infested our institutions and is turning Britain from a parochial land where everything is permitted unless it is forbidden, into a globalist landing strip where everything is forbidden unless it is permitted.
Toby Young spoke powerfully on his experience of being deplatformed by PayPal. For a brief recap, on the 15th of September 2022, Young’s personal account, the account of The Daily Skeptic, and the account of the Free Speech Union were all suspended for breaking PayPal’s “acceptable use policy”. Young was and is a critic of the UK Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and opposes the worldview of the woke left. Young was forced to, as he put it, “go to war with PayPal” after this assault on his financial freedom.
Jacob Rees-Mogg described Young’s ordeal as representing a “sinister new form of cancel culture” — a message Young reiterated throughout his speech. He emphasised in no uncertain terms the reality that technologies like digital IDs and CBDCs would enable the state to restrict the financial capabilities of those they deem spreaders of “disinformation”, “misinformation”, and “hate speech”.
Whether or not such transgressions had been committed meant little to the faceless bureaucrats of PayPal, as Young’s experience showed, and would mean even less to the apparatchiks overseeing the prospective financial system of CBDCs.
Young also noted that many of the accounts suspended alongside his own — including the UK Medical Freedom Alliance and Law or Fiction — had still not had their accounts restored by PayPal.
The crowd was composed of people from all walks of life. To the chagrin of the elites in Westminster and their friends in Davos, it seems that this is an issue that has the capacity to transcend the divisions of race, religion, and politics. Like the crowd, the panel — consisting of Toby Young, Eva Pascoe, Nico Macdonald, Cameron Parry, Andrew Lowenthal, and James Melville — represented a diverse array of occupations and a spectrum of political world views.
With that being said, there was a distinct absence of young faces in the room. This is an issue which seems to resonate strongly with Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers, but which does not seem to ignite the passions of the younger generations, famed for their nominal commitments to justice and freedom. There were some, but the majority of the crowd were what Marc Presnky would call “digital immigrants”. The reasons for this are varied, but what is clear is that there is little concern among the younger generations about the authoritarianism that technologies like CBDCs and Digital IDs could facilitate.
As a Zoomer myself, I had my first experience with this sort of thing when the government mandated that so-called “vaccine passports” would be needed to access certain businesses and services. One such business was nightclubs. This turn of events triggered an instinctive feeling of dread and disgust in me, but it did not in a significant portion of my generation.
I looked on as, without a second thought, many of my peers prepared their papers for checking at the entrance to whichever cathedral of indulgence and bad judgement they had chosen to attend that week. I was disturbed by the willingness of my generation, addicted as we are to comfort and convenience, to allow a tentacle of the state into their back pocket all in the name of a night out.
#Together were founded to oppose vaccine passports alongside other causes. A vaccine passport is a form of digital ID; for those not familiar with such a technology, a digital ID is a piece of technology that acts as an identifier in the same way as a driving licence or passport. In practice, this might take the form of an app on your smartphone that could be used to prove your age when purchasing alcohol, or when accessing adult content online. On the surface, digital ID sounds relatively innocuous — we all have accounts on various different websites, and everything is digital nowadays anyway, so why the fuss?
Digital ID would require a centralised government database containing the details — such as name, date of birth, address, and any other information the state decides it needs — of everyone in the country. This presents a major privacy concern; for example, it would allow the government to track the behaviour of every single individual on the basis of what they use their ID for.
Even fewer people are aware of CBDCs. A CBDC is a type of currency issued by a state-owned bank, like the Bank of England. You can imagine them as state-issued digital tokens whose value mirrors that of the pre-existing fiat currency (that is, the currency produced by the government whose value is not tied to a commodity like gold).
For a more in-depth look at CBDCs, I would point you towards Brett Scott’s article “The Casino Chip Society”.
Since before the COVID-19 pandemic, many people were already favouring digital payments, such as Apple Pay or contactless card payment, over paying with physical cash — and the pandemic only accelerated this transition. As such, many see a fully digitalised currency as the next logical step.
A major concern around CBDCs is the idea that they could be programmed. What this means is that the central government could remotely restrict your ability to buy from or sell to particular individuals or organisations. In a country with a nationalised healthcare system, like the UK, this might manifest as the state deeming you too unhealthy, and banning you from buying cigarettes, alcohol, and fast food. This is a fairly banal example, and to some might even sound like a good idea given the poor health of so many in the modern world.
But imagine, if you will, a scenario in which one has posted something on social media that the Government deems “hate speech” or “misinformation”. An example of each might be questioning the notion that trans women are women, or criticising the Government’s response to COVID-19. Were this to happen, a CBDC would allow the state to punish you by banning you from money.
Paired with a centralised digital ID, a CBDC would kill financial anonymity instantly because of their centralised and digitised nature and lay the foundations for a Chinese-style social credit system. This would mean one’s access to goods and services is determined by a score assigned to them by the central Government on the basis of their behaviour.
These technologies are pushed by the likes of the World Economic Forum, Bill Gates, Justin Trudeau, and our very own Tony Blair and Rishi Sunak. The fact that characters like these favour these systems so strongly should indicate the threat that they pose.
Whether these issues will enter mainstream discussion in Westminster and beyond remains to be seen. There is a small but passionate and vocal contingent of the public who strongly oppose technologies like CBDCs and digital IDs, and organisations like #Together are doing some meaningful work in pushing the topic into the public consciousness. At present, the majority of politicians, pundits, and ordinary people remain apathetic, but more and more people are waking up the the very real threat that powerful new technologies may pose if wielded by people with a tendency towards authoritarianism.