A World Where Privacy and Saving Lives Can Coexist

Defenders of Washington’s COVID-19 response say it’s unfair to compare surging U.S. death rates with the far lower numbers in countries such as South Korea or Singapore because Americans would never accept the kind of social surveillance that’s ingrained in their approach. 

The statement implies a depressing trade-off of deaths for privacy. Although it recorded its first COVID-19 case on the same date, the U.S. currently has, per capita, 13 times South Korea’s caseload and a shocking 33 times its deaths. It’s also a depressingly defeatist notion. The trade-off need not exist. 

The U.S. could and should have an effective smartphone-based “contact tracing” system that doesn’t encroach on our civil rights. For two decades, cryptographers have been highlighting the threat to privacy from our expanding online habits. They’ve also found ways around that problem, inventing encryption tools that let us share data without giving up our identities. 

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But just as we ignored epidemiologists and their warnings of an inevitable pandemic, we also ignored the cryptographers. Worse, perhaps, we labeled them as cranks and criminals. 

This must change. If Americans truly want to protect their freedoms, they must now support research and development in zero-knowledge proofs, end-to-end encryption and self-sovereign digital identity. 

Thankfully, the cryptocurrency explosion has fostered a boom in innovation in these fields, often resulting in side applications that are unrelated to digital tokens or blockchains. This is not a crypto fringe concept; it’s core infrastructure for the digital age.

Source: Unsplash

Here’s the challenge: To test decentralized data-gathering tools at scale, in real life,…

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