Human Rights Foundation Debates If Privacy Of Bitcoin Could Protect Journalists From Danger

By March 12, 2019 Bitcoin Business
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Human Rights Foundation Debates If Privacy Of Bitcoin Could Protect Journalists From Danger

Journalists and cryptocurrency are an unlikely twosome, but the Human Rights Foundation recently published a blog post that would bring these two subjects together. Journalists have a responsibility to educate the public about various changes that could impact their lives. Through information gathering activities, like interviews or investigating records for pertinent information, these individuals are constantly put in danger, depending on the topic they report on.

To put this danger in perspective, a statistic from CPJ showed that there were 34 journalists murdered while pursuing their causes. This number does not even reflect the dangerous situations that caused their death, but their risk extends beyond the end of their life. In fact, just last year, there were over 251 journalists put in jail for their work.

Due to the dangers that these journalists constantly face, the Human Rights Foundation believes that there is a way to help journalists use Bitcoin to their advantage. Bitcoin provides hope for both privacy and safety, while traditional payment channels leave them exposed. Bitcoin’s application as a protocol helps to increase transparency to keep the ledger honest, but it also improves privacy. Realistically, Bitcoin is technically pseudonymous, which means that 100% anonymity is not realistic. Still, the technology would help journalists to complete their work without being found.

In a blog post from the Human Rights Foundation, titled “Privacy and Cryptocurrency, Part I: How Private is Bitcoin?”, the organization breaks down Bitcoin privacy and the way that the crypto tools can help to protect the identity of the user. Starting off questioning why cryptocurrencies could be used, the organization explains that they are extraordinarily more privacy-focused than the systems in traditional payments. The goal of the Foundation is to learn more about the technology involved and figure out how likely it is that journalists can use the protocols to experience both economic and political freedom in their work.

Much of the popularity of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is found in countries where economic freedom is limited for the locals. It is clear that cryptocurrency offers a liberating benefit, but the purpose is defeated when the anonymity can be compromised on a whim by authoritarian regimes. The Foundation aims to break down the research they find to determine practical guidelines that may mean the difference between life and death for journalists, starting with their first post on the topic.

Tracking On Bitcoin’s Network

Before employing the use of Blockchain protocol, it is absolutely necessary that journalists get a complete understanding of what traces that they still leave behind. Each journalist has a relative perception of what they need to remain protected, and the evaluation of these protocols through the Foundation should help them determine if Bitcoin’s privacy will meet their needs.

When it comes to Bitcoin, there are two traces that users leave behind – what is included and what is not included on the blockchain. On the blockchain, there is no information that really links the person to their transactions, but there’s information that links transactions together. What is omitted from the blockchain could link the identity of the user, like the person that sends funds to the user. Though the direct knowledge of who the user is will not technically be exposed, some research could show how the user interacts with their holdings, how much they have, and who has been involved in the transactions. Since the source IP address can also be traced, even by someone who does not have the identity of the user, there is a small estimation that aggressive attackers can find through investigating these transactions.

The biggest risk for users in with third-party services that require the use of Know Your Customer practices. These practices require identification verification before transactions can happen, which are linked to the user’s real-world identity.

Ways To Protect Identity On The Blockchain

The Foundation goes over all of the places in the Bitcoin network that the identity of the user can be exposed. However, they also understand that there are some techniques that can make it harder for companies to determine the original identity, which would be the journalist safe from being found, or at least delayed.

Bitcoin wallets are set up in a way that there is a way to automate some of these solutions, or that a user interface could implement them. The Foundation gives several examples of “non-exhaustive” options, which include:

  • Using HD wallets to avoid using the same address twice
  • Randomizing the order of transaction outputs
  • Using a PayNym, which is a public ID that allows for the receipt of payments at various addresses

There are multiple algorithms and ways to hide these transactions to protect the user’s IP address, their identity, and more. However, the key appears to be using blockchains that do not have to follow KYC protocols, which is becoming scarcer and is slightly dangerous, considering that funds can be lost.

The Lightning Network

While the Lightning Network for Bitcoin offers fast transactions with no storage on the public ledger, along with onion routing to protect the final recipient, there is still some risk. The big issue is that the user has to have a Lightning node running to communicate with other nodes to receive payment. Since this node interacts with others on the network, there is a chance of the user’s public key and IP address being found.

The Tor tool, a free knowledge initiative, seems to be one of the best ways to hide the device and the IP address that the user interacts with. The browser is available as a configurable option for wallets like Bitcoin Core, while others may have it already built in. Along with hiding IP addresses, users will greatly benefit from the cleared cookies upon exit, the protection from third-party cookies that could effectively trace them, and the fact that Lightning nodes can be run over Tor.

It is worth noting that there’s still development on the Lightning Network, and the use of Tor may not be an option forever.

Learn More

To view the entire blog post from the Human Rights Foundation, visit https://medium.com/human-rights-foundation-hrf/privacy-and-cryptocurrency-part-i-how-private-is-bitcoin-e3a4071f8fff.

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