The Federal Reserve Board is publicly weighing whether or not to ask Congress to allow it to establish a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC), replacing paper dollars with government-issued electrons.
Given the growth of computing, a digital national currency may seem inevitable. But it would be a risky proposition from the standpoint of cybersecurity, national security, and unintended consequences for the economy. A CBDC would certainly pose a significant threat to Americans’ privacy.
A factsheet on the Federal Reserve website says, “Any CBDC would need to strike an appropriate balance between safeguarding the privacy rights of consumers and affording the transparency necessary to deter criminal activity.” The Fed imagines that such a scheme would rely on privacy-sector intermediaries to create digital wallets and protect consumers’ privacy.
Given the hunger that officialdom in Washington, D.C., has shown for pulling in all our financial information – including a serious proposal to record transactions from bank accounts, digital wallets, and apps – the Fed’s balancing of our privacy against surveillance of the currency is troubling. With digital money, government would have in its hands the ability to surveil all transactions, tracing every dollar from recipient to spender. Armed with such power, the government could debank any number of disfavored groups or individuals. If this sounds implausible, consider that debanking was exactly the strategy the Canadian government used against the trucker protestors two years ago.
Enter H.R. 1122 – the CBDC Anti-Surveillance State Act – which sets down requirements for a digital currency. This bill would prohibit the Federal Reserve from using CBDC to implement monetary policy. It would require the Fed to report the results of a study or pilot program to Congress on a quarterly basis and consult with the brain trust of the Fed’s regional banks.
Though this bill prevents the Fed from issuing CBDC accounts to individuals directly, there is a potential loophole in this bill – the Fed might still maintain CBDC accounts for corporations (the “intermediaries” the Fed refers to). The sponsors may want to close any loopholes there.
That’s a quibble, however. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MO), Majority Whip of the House, with almost 80 co-sponsors, is a needed warning to the Fed and to surveillance hawks that a financial surveillance state is unacceptable.