Talking to Coindesk, Stallman said that while he likes the idea of making purchases anonymously from various kinds of stores, the existing process is flawed.
He said that using a crypto exchange would allow that company and ultimately the government to identify him.
Privacy coins were also flawed for either security or its scalability issues.
Stallman continued: “If Bitcoin protected privacy, I’d probably have found a way to use it by now.”
“I wouldn’t want perfect privacy”, Stallman says in the interview, “because that would mean it would be impossible to investigate crimes at all.
You’ll be able to get a Taler token from your bank, or a whole bunch of Taler tokens, and then you’ll be able to use those to pay anonymously.
Then if the store can send the thing you bought to a delivery box in your neighborhood, the store doesn’t ever have to know who you are.
But there’s another issue Stallman touched on earlier in his talk: There is a proposed U.S. law called KOSA which would require mandatory age-verification of users — which means mandatory identification of users, which is likely to mean via face recognition. And it would be in every commercial software application or electronic service that connects to the internet….
[It’s] supposedly for protecting children. That’s one of the favorite excuses for surveillance and repression: to protect the children. Whether it would actually protect anyone is dubious, but they hope that won’t actually be checked….
If a government implements that method, I don’t see that it’s a contradiction. But if the government uses it as a surveillance device, I think that is vicious.”
The founder of the Free Software Movement pauses to explain the concept of “privacy” when talking about crypto’s privacy:
“What is privacy? Privacy means being able to say and do things without there being known to some powerful entity that can use them to attack you.
Now, exceptions to this are sometimes justified. We want the government to investigate. This needs a bit of editing. We want the government to investigate crime and catch criminals.
Justice and injustice. The idea is that users deserve control over the software that they are using. You as a user of software deserve control over the software that you are using, and you deserve to be free to join with other users to exercise this control collectively, whichever groups you choose to participate in.
Concretely there are four essential freedoms that users need in order to have full control over a given program. ‘Freedom 0’ is the freedom to run the program any way you wish for any purpose you have. ‘Freedom 1’ is the freedom to study the program source code and modify it as you wish. So the program does what you actually want.
When I pay the electric bill and the gas bill, well I have an account with those businesses and I have to pay it. They send me bills with my name on it, so I don’t lose anything by sending them checks with my name on them too.
But, when I go to a store and buy something, the store has no right to know who I am. And I won’t let it know who I am, so I don’t use the existing digital payment systems.
There is one other thing I don’t like about Bitcoin, and that is that it is easy to use for tax evasion.
Now, I don’t do that, but there are businesses that do tremendous amounts of tax evasion, and it is a big problem. It impoverishes most of us. It means the government doesn’t have enough money to do the things the government should be doing.
In this same way, a blockchain-based system could work with Taler exchanges to allow users to get access to their cryptocurrency.
Grothoff compared the act of moving bank deposits to a Taler digital wallet to taking cash out of an ATM. Coins in the wallet are stored locally on a user’s device, and if a user loses the key to their wallet, there’s nothing that can be done to recover it, much like the crypto space’s use of private/public key pairs.
Currently, Taler is in talks with European banks to allow withdrawal into the Taler wallet and also re-deposit from the Taler system back into the traditional banking system.
While the launch date on the project’s website still lists 2018, Grothoff said, it’s dependent of how quickly discussions with banks can be wrapped up.
That’s the approach that has to replace data protection.”
This Q&A has been lightly edited for context.
Cointelegraph: What’s your personal experience with cryptocurrency? Have you ever held or transacted something like Bitcoin?
Richard Stallman: The answer is no. I don’t do any kind of digital payments, and the reason is the systems that exist do not respect the user’s privacy, and that includes Bitcoin.
Every Bitcoin transaction is published. Now, people might not know that my wallet belongs to me, but if I used it more than a few times it would be possible to figure out that it’s me. People with enough information could do so. I’d rather use cash.
And that’s how I buy things.
I do mail checks for a number of things where businesses know who I am.
During a 92-minute presentation Wednesday on the state of the free software movement, Richard Stallman spoke at length on a wide variety of topics, including the need for freedom-respecting package systems.
[And] to pay remotely you’ve got to do it by credit card, and that’s tracking people, and I want to resist tracking too…. This is a really serious problem for society, that you can’t order things remotely anonymously.
But GNU Taler is part of the path to fixing that.
Cointelegraph, Stallman said that while he was not against them, and was not campaigning to eliminate them, “I just don’t particularly want to use them”.
Stallman said that digital payment systems are fundamentally dangerous if they are not engineered to ensure privacy.
Countries like China which are thinking about bringing them in are the enemy of privacy.
“China shows what totalitarian surveillance is like. I consider that hell on earth. That’s part of why I haven’t used cryptocurrencies that are issued by the community.
If the cryptocurrency is issued by a government, it would surveille people just the way credit cards do and PayPal does, and all those other systems meaning completely unacceptable.”
Stallman said: “I don’t do any kind of digital payments, and the reason is the systems that exist do not respect the user’s privacy, and that includes Bitcoin.
I tell him I’m still listening, but he explains that the confused greeting wasn’t intended for me. Instead, he says a man’s voice – neither mine nor an echo of his – had just cut in with one word: “liberty.”
“Does that sort of thing happen a lot?” I ask.
I hadn’t heard anything.
“Yes,” he says. “It wasn’t a voice I recognize.” He added, “It could be … ”
Then a quick burst of static made his next words inaudible.
It was a strange incident, but apparently not a new experience for Stallman, whose emails urge any NSA or FBI agents reading to “follow Snowden’s example” and blow the whistle.
Stallman seems to check all of the old school cypherpunk boxes: in addition to being an Edward Snowden admirer, he’s a hacker of the original ’70s and ’80s generation, a privacy activist, and a frequent invoker of liberty.