Surviving the Surveillance State

Leo Weese (Bitcoin Association of Hong Kong), Ketominer (Nodl), Lina Seiche (BITSE)

Surviving the Surveillance State

[00:00:00] Stephan Livera: Hello everyone. welcome. So, our panel is about surviving the surveillance state. So our guests today are Leo, ketominer, and Lina. And just for those of you don't know me, I'm Stephan Livera, I'm a Bitcoin podcaster and. founder of ministry of nodes.

I'll give everyone on the panel, just a chance to introduce themselves. Leo let's start with you.

Leo Weese: I am Leo. I'm a cofounder of the Bitcoin Association of Hong Kong. I'm in Bitcoin, I'm in Hong Kong right now. We started organizing the Bitcoin meetups in 2012, and then later I moved into becoming an industry representation and, yeah, hosting events, talks, and privacy is very much my personal interest.

Stephan Livera: Awesome. And,


Ketominer: So I am

the founder and creator of Nodl, which are hardware boxes full nodes and also hosted version of full nodes with all the services that lightning and such. And I'm also co collaborating on a project called Sphinx chat, which is a lightning-based chat application, which uses [00:01:00] lightening transactions to, to carry messages.

Stephan Livera: Awesome. Lina.

Lina Seiche: my name's Lina, I'm the marketing director at bitse we're a cryptocurrency spot and futures exchange. I consider myself a person without extraordinary technical capabilities, but with a wish for privacy.

Stephan Livera: Awesome. Yeah. So look, there are many threats to our privacy in today's day and age.

Let's talk about some of the main threats that you might see. And now, obviously Bitcoin is the main thing, the financial aspect, but there are other threats, from, you know, let's say surveillance of our communications or, surveillance while we're walking around in the street. perhaps each of, you could just tell us a little bit about what are.

The main threats that you see to your privacy from the state

Leo Weese: from the state. It's very much, my ability to communicate, I think, the, for the state to be able to map out who am I in touch with, what am [00:02:00] I concerned with? What are my political views, that allows them to, yeah? Kind of cement their power and. yeah. push out any kind of oppositional views, as far as private organizations are concerned.

I think it's the monitoring of commerce and the kind of monopolization of any kind of trade secrets, cause that makes it impossible to compete. And that allows the very few to extract all of the yeah. Kind of like trade surplus that we're generating to concentrate that in their pockets.

Stephan Livera: Yeah. Lina, how about you?

Lina Seiche: Yeah, I think there's a difference between, with private companies and surveillance for private companies. You may have the option to opt out depending on how big they are. It might be more or less difficult to government surveillance. I think, besides communications, as Leo said, financial surveillance is a big deal.

Let's say you want to go to what happened in Hong Kong. You want to go to a demonstration. you can't use your credit card to get there. can't use an Uber can't use your Metro card [00:03:00] potentially because you might get tracked down. So, it's a big threat.

Stephan Livera: Yeah. How about your keto? What are the main threats that you see?

Ketominer: I think freedom

of movement is something we have less and less today.

Like everything is tracked, your phone is tracked, all the apps you're using are basically enabling to government. And the Big corporation to track you also, I think the, the. Bank transactions. Privacy is very important. For example, what you spend and, why is only your problem. I don't want to know the, my bank what shop.

I'm  going to buy what and, today with this virus outbreak, actually, I guess it's the same in other jurisdictions with here in Europe, cash was totally banned. Like you can't buy groceries with cash anymore. And, I, I see it coming like in two, three months when everything will be reopening fully.

the government telling us and the banks telling us that, Oh, see, we can live without cash. [00:04:00] Just use cards instead. And we have a massive cash burning in the, in the world because of this stupid virus.

Stephan Livera: Yeah. That's a great point. And that reminds me also that for people who want to buy Bitcoin in a more private way, typically people say, Hey, use cash to buy that and do a cash deal for Bitcoin.

But what happens when they start removing cash? And then how will people be able to acquire Bitcoins that way in that case? What do you guys think?

Leo Weese: I think, I think the best way to acquire Bitcoin is still to accept it for your services. especially as we're moving to like a services-based industry. I do, I'm not entirely pessimistic about the scenario you're describing because it is going to be.

Easy to render services anonymously and render services like under the table. it might be a little bit more difficult to with goods might be more difficult to ship goods, without, yeah, without the state asking for where's the proof of payment for this one, right? We're not going to deliver this package.

unless you can show us the [00:05:00] credit card statement or the bank statement that shows that this good has been paid for and the taxes have been paid for, but for most of us, we're going to be able to. Produce kind of some kind of services we're going to be able to accept Bitcoin. And, yeah, we're going to be able to keep that away from the prying eyes of those who want to monopolize the services and those who want to censor these services.

Lina Seiche: I


also I think the best way likely is if you can, if you have the capability to mine, Bitcoin, obviously, then if you can't do that, maybe you can ask your, maybe you are, you sell something then yeah. You can ask a. To receive bitcoin for that. Maybe you can ask your employer to pay you in Bitcoin. If they would be open to doing that, if you don't have any of those options.

It gets more difficult. I think, one thing that you can still do currently, I don't know for how long is, but there are prepaid credit cards and debit cards. Where you can actually go to a shop, get a debit card, credit card and load it with cash [00:06:00] and use those somewhere to buy Bitcoin. But I think the higher, the limit on those cards, the harder it is to get them without KYC.

So the limits are usually quite low if you want it anonymous. .

Ketominer: Yeah. Actually

in Europe, the limits are so low that, where, when you use the card without the, without the. First level of KYC, which is probably just a sending an ID. you can only go to certain shops with it. You can't even use it on the internet.

You can only use it for buy food and first necessity goods,

Stephan Livera: right and also over time, we have FATF, financial action task force, which is a cross government organization that is basically pushing these AML laws and sanctions laws and all these other laws onto. Other countries. And then those countries then push that law down onto the companies.

And then those companies now have to start surveilling. They're users. And in the case of Bitcoin [00:07:00] exchanges or other companies, it just means, or even banks, right. it, they have to be surveilled. so what we're seeing is sort of this almost two spheres, right? So we have this world of the compliant world, and then we have the sort of defiant, non-KYC sort of world.

How do you see those two spheres evolving? Do they complement each other? Do they clash with each other? What are your thoughts?

Leo Weese: I think there's going to be a lot more resistance to really, eliminating the gray economy. I think the gray economy is much larger than we often give it credit for. And a lot more people are engaged in it.

And the gray economy doesn't necessarily include like the illegal things. It's, it's gray in the sense that it just makes it's even things that people just uncomfortable with or. yeah, things that are more practical, when they're, when they're more private, which also includes like, yeah, a lot of, a lot of commerce, a lot of hospitality, right?

A lot of people do not want to be recognized or they do not want to be, to [00:08:00] be publicly discussed and. People, even in places like China where this, this trend is going to happen much earlier and much more aggressively. I very much believe we're going to see a lot of people, not necessarily rebelling, but just constantly undermining these little things, by, and that can go very quickly, right?

Like you just need to ask a friend to. To pay for your, pay for your TV that you're buying, with their account and then reimburse them with something else later. And that already massively undermines the system. where now somebody has three TVs at home and you have a hard time tracking down who are the two people who these, who own these access to these.

Stephan Livera: Did you guys have anything to add keto or Lina?

Okay. Excellent. well, yeah, so I mean, there's a lot of different little parts of that as well. So I think one thing Lina touched on earlier is, is like this idea of going old school. Right? So there are some things [00:09:00] where you sort of try to go back to cash and you try to use cash where possible, are there any other examples of things where you have to go old school to try and, not have your communication censored, for, for example, radio, or mesh networking. Are there any thoughts that you guys have on that and what you see happening with those kinds of technologies? 

Leo Weese: yeah. I'm curious how much people are, are gonna go old school when it comes to transportation. the fact that our transportations are so like closely tracked, can become like a massive inconvenience.

and that might even be like, very problematic for something like, protection of victims. Right? If you have a stalker or if you are. if you're being harassed, or if you have somebody who is out to harm you, like how do you get away from that person? If that person has access to some like advanced technological technology.

And so I wonder how much, taxis are just going to survive and actually be cherished even by, by the tech [00:10:00] community as a, as a. pay with cash kind of no, no app tracking ability to get around, or, even just the bus or in places where, where public transportation is, is easily accessible. Public transportation is just like a means of reclaiming your privacy.

Ketominer: Especially now that you can take any public transportation, with mandatory mask on your face.

Leo Weese: Yeah. And quite a few cities have abandoned have abolished payments, for the time being, because they just don't want to deal with like exchanging cash at all. even, even the credit card path, right. Is, can get quite dirty.

I think the mask topic is a, is a really fun one because it's been, it's somehow not wearing a mask has become a symbol of freedom. And yet wearing a mask is also still the strong symbol of, of privacy. And, yeah. AI might be able to identify you simply from the angle of your eyes and then the shade of your eyebrows.

But it does work a lot less and the error code is a lot higher. So if [00:11:00] you now have, people in China walking around with masks all the time, the facial recognition systems work significantly worse, and that that's going to very much change, like the way, people are supposed to be. Yeah. Have a, have a tab kept on.

Stephan Livera: Yeah. And on the topic of masks, I think that's a great one because I have seen some masks that have been designed in a way with like a pattern that's intended to break the way the facial recognition stuff works. So that's another option that, Hey, if you're trying to resist the surveillance state, everyone can start wearing those masks as well.

So what do you guys think on the topic of masks, keto or Lina?

Lina Seiche: Well,

I think it's great until it's banned right. You never know if you're in a jurisdiction where later

Stephan Livera: WE can pretend it's for the virus Lina.

Lina Seiche: Yeah. Hopefully

we can. I think it's good. You know, and I think are a good thing. And I think right now we should be wearing masks, but I'm not the government, right.

Aside from that, I think there are other things, other gadgets, I [00:12:00] mean, most conservatively, you can also just wear a hat, wear a scarf, say you're cold. I don't know. Then I think there are gadgets, like glasses that reflect, the, the cameras camera, whatever. And then you can't see the face anymore. and they're a bit more subtle in that sense.

So while I think that, and there are bans and there are rules and certain countries where you can't wear masks, even if those are temporarily, put on hold, it might come back, but then there will be new gadgets to, it's an arms race, right?

Ketominer: It's funny how many places the masks are actually banned and mandatory at the same time right now.


I think NYC is one of these places where you have to wear a mask for, for your health, but it's forbidden for surveillance.

Leo Weese: So I think Austria has a mandatory mask law and a mask ban at the same time. [00:13:00] Fund for courts to resolve

Stephan Livera: well, that's the other thing as well, because there are some who are trying to challenge some of the laws, because let's say they go against the constitution in, obviously it is a global thing.

Right. But depending on what country and so on. so that's, that's one aspect to consider. and I think it's also worthwhile talking about how we communicate now. So. It's a difficult thing because obviously there's, you know, there's PGP and there's signal. And then, but then everyone's got 10,000 different messaging applications, right?

And then you've got a weigh up as well. The network effect of, let's say lots of Bitcoin people in groups that are on telegram, but telegrams not necessarily the Most like it's not necessarily the most private and that you sort of go back and forward on how to. Right. How to balance those competing priorities.

How do you guys manage that in terms of your private messaging?

Leo Weese: I feel it's a, it's a fight I've been, I've been losing over the years. [00:14:00] I've always been like a very happy user of jabbered, of XMPP. it would be very easy to spin up your own, like jabbered server, to then give out accounts to your friends. There would be a couple of companies that would run their own free services.

Like duck duck go is very easy to sign up or rise up. you get to connect through those with Tor. Like they all had, they had exactly the kind of. Characteristics that you would expect, right? Like if you can self-host, you can anonymously sign up. It's not tied to your identity. You can have multiple, multiple accounts.

You can have a full end to end encryption was a proper audited, protocol. and yeah, it, wasn't very mobile friendly and, The kind of the kind of dilemmas that existed for developing like a good mobile client or a good, fork of the, of the jabberd protocols for mobile, kind of meant that as people's life moves on to the mobile phone, it's kind of the best substitute was suddenly telegram.

and yet it's [00:15:00] really less than satisfactory because suddenly it's difficult to have multiple accounts. We have accounts tied to our phone number. we don't have end to end encryption by default, and. That's really something where we will have to make a lot of effort. And if we look at the kind of valuation that those companies have, then yeah, it is very tempting to create a new messaging platform and it is not tempting at all to open source it, signal also for years has been.

Resisting the open sourcing of the, of the service side, signal could be easily a federated system where I spin up my own server. I made up my own accounts under my own mechanism. And, but that's somehow not acceptable or that somehow. Yeah, not, it's not profitable

Stephan Livera: on the topic of signal. I believe Moxie.

I think there was a talk where Moxie, Marlinspike spoke a little bit about. How, he, maybe I'm not correctly characterizing it, but I believe he was saying something like if you make it too decentralized, that may hinder the experience that [00:16:00] people have and then they may not want to use the app. And so I think that was his argument, but I wonder what your thoughts are on that.

Or perhaps keto, if you've got a view on that as well.

Ketominer: I mean, XMPP was very successful. I'm saying was because I  was using it like 10 years ago and stopped probably most people did. And, it was a very successful decentralized system and it just worked. There was really no downsides. You could even make voice calls, video calls using [unintelligible] on top of it.

And, that’s kind of what we are trying to do with Sphinx Chat now, we'll use lightning for the base layer for the chat messages and signaling. And then on top of that, you can make a video call [unintelligible], it can be your own private instance or a public one. You can also do confidential transactions.

Like for example, one of the chats can be with your meat seller because meat will be heavily taxed in the future in the world. And, yeah, so I, I'm not, I'm still [00:17:00] not sure lightning really scales, because, I'm currently running a few hundred instances and, the big challenge is coming with that, but it's one.

One thing we have to explore, on the other side, when I really, I mean, for convenience, of course, telegram is my number one. I have like one contact on WhatsApp, one contact on signal and I dunno, 1000 on telegram, If I want something really private and old school, I go IRC. That's something we forgot about long time ago.

And you can just connect to yourself hosted server over tor. no one knows who you are, where you are, and you can just text chat totally privately, and things like joined markets, work still so.

Stephan Livera: Yeah,

Lina can you tell us a little bit about your use of a private messaging apps and what, what, what's your main, focus at the moment from that perspective?

Lina Seiche: well, I think the [00:18:00] main issue is really okay if you're looking for private communications within your company and you are at the top of the company, then I think it's more easy to actually enforce it. Like, let's say you want to have a self-hosted communications method and you can say our company is going to use that.

if you want to talk to your friends for it, to your family, to other people that are you, your acquaintances, whatever. It's going to be more difficult because then it's always convenience. Not always, but often convenience over privacy or as Leo, I think said the more private, the more, or did you say the more decentralized, the more.

the more privacy you have, the less convenient it gets. Right? So even if you try not to use things like WhatsApp, if, my family, for example, they love WhatsApp. They don't even go to telegram. Telegram is very popular within the Bitcoin community. I feel it's not that popular outside of it. Let alone signal or let alone something like riot or whatever [00:19:00] else.

Right. So, It's the, because I think the awareness is not really there, that you don't really see that you're being potentially watched. Right. So, until you have that feeling until something maybe happens to you, you tend to, maybe go for the things that are easier to use. I mean, that's a generic problem with the, in the field of privacy, right?

Stephan Livera: Yeah. Yeah. And there's also key base as well. So that's another interesting one because that one is encrypted, but you're kind of trusting, you know, it's all going through their server and now they've recently been purchased by zoom. So I'm sure you guys will have views on that. What are your thoughts? ,

Leo Weese: I


I think it's great that zoom is, seems to be making some kind of honest effort to like clean up the kind of mess of their product is like, they've been very rightfully attacked.

Dozens of times for very embarrassing. yeah, missing the miss. representations of their security [00:20:00] model or, poor programming decisions that they've taken, like the kind of [unintelligible] using, using a web server and local hosts. So, to receive any kind of updates that it did install without checking.

but then yeah, we fear for Keybase too. And we feared for Keybase before. Like we've always known that it was very hard for Keybase to raise money, it's been criticized for. yeah, for partnering with stellar, we also knew that that wasn't like just a free decision that Keybase did because they're so excited about stellar, but that's just.

They need some kind of partnerships that bringing yeah. Users and cashflow, and, it's very hard to, to monetize a truly, properly secure product. And it's impossible to monetize a properly decentralized product and bringing in like a token, we've seen that in 2017 is also not a solution at all. so we really rely on kind of the.

we rely on the, on the initiative for the individuals, to build these tools and then the kind of the Goodwill of, of the users to then contribute and pay for [00:21:00] these tools even on a voluntary basis. And when they cannot be forced to pay for, let's say a Jitsi Meet. then did they still need to figure out a way to monetize themselves anyway, and the red hat model?

Isn't exactly like the prime example of how open source development can, can sustainably work.

Stephan Livera: Yeah. Did you have, do you guys have any thoughts on the whole Keybase thing or? Oh no,

Ketominer: actually I like everybody was. Pretty much agreed that Keybase was something good before, but I'm not sure how many people actually checked how it works as for many open source products.

And, I was kind of meh about Keybase and now obviously, I mean, yeah, it's a very good thing for zoom, because it will bring into an encryption for video calls and more features, but let's see what Keybase, will become now.

[00:22:00] Stephan Livera: Yeah. Yeah. And look, this is obviously a Bitcoin themed, chat. we've also got to talk about privacy within Bitcoin.

So let's talk a little bit about maintaining your privacy on that end. So I think keto, you'll probably the best guy to start with here, obviously. Being behind the Nodl and you've got the dojo Nodl, which is the samurai wallets, collaboration. what are some of your thoughts there around people using privacy techniques in Bitcoin?

Ketominer: So I. I, I think really, lightening and mixing are two things, which bring you, the next layer of privacy in Bitcoin and, mixing in recent days was challenging because of the fees on the blockchain and the number of transactions. And some people consider it that as spam on the blockchain, which is kind of correct, technically speaking.

but yeah, I mean, when you receive coins from an unknown source or an exchange, [00:23:00] the least you can do for yourself and for the people you will be sending these coins to is to mix them. And also don't forget to have a safe way of spending them. I think many people do this mistake and I'm, I'm the first one to do it because of, sometimes I have to is to, to just spend the mixed coins in a single transaction.

not using any Stonewall or other the techniques to, to make the transaction less obvious to a block analysis. but yeah, as much as you can, you should just, I mean, make every spender coinjoin. that's the main thing, I think we should do 

Stephan Livera: Leo, did

Stephan Livera: you have any thoughts around Bitcoin privacy techniques?

Leo Weese: Yeah, I'm a big fan of, self-hosting stuff. and I think it's gotten so much easier to self-host stuff. knowing there's going to be a BTC pay panel later. but I think that's one of the greatest innovations and one of the greatest tools to, [00:24:00] yeah. Really bring back your privacy and make bitcoin a lot more useful for yourself.

I. I also believe we are mainly missing a lot of the UI and configuration features that make it easy to host yourself the software itself, like a Bitcoin core L ND is relatively easy to install. it is relatively easy to maintain. and with, yeah, just a little bit of UI work. I think that can really be brought to the masses of having like a little.

A little device at home of the size of a raspberry pi. like how Casa and how Nodl, are building those, to really, yeah. Make it easy, make it easy for the masses to, to do this. And, I know it's often being told that like, this is not, something that the masses want, or, but I do think that the economics, will lead to a rational Bitcoin user.

Trying to like somewhat safeguard their, their assets and their payments. And of course that might not be applicable to everybody with a Bitcoin wallet, but that might be [00:25:00] applicable to everybody.  with significant savings in Bitcoin or everybody who makes a significant amount of transactions in Bitcoins, everybody who regularly receives payments, but want, like kind  of like a trusted authority, meaning themselves to tell them how many confirmations they have. And bitcoin  makes perfect sense. And in Bitcoin, the path is not just very clear, but it is being taken. so I'm much, much more optimistic about Bitcoin than I am about open source, decentralized video conferencing software, or chat applications, or running your own like web server.

Or gaming, like a Bitcoin is going to be, not only made for a decentralization, but it's kind of like where decentralization is  the most needed. And so people will do it.

Stephan Livera: Yeah. Lina, have you got any, thing to add in terms of Bitcoin privacy techniques, that listeners should be considering when they are using Bitcoin?

Lina Seiche: Yeah, one thing that I hope and [00:26:00] think, and hope will be more widespread in the future is the awareness of, the existence of coin selection in certain wallets that you have. And do you have it in some wallets like electrum, but you many close source as well as they don't have it. Right. Then you look, especially the easy wallets with convenient interface.

they show you your balance and then you spend it, but you don't know that it's, you don't have one amount of Bitcoin, but you have a number of different addresses that you're spending from, and that it's all public. And, that, that could be used to potentially identify you if at any point in time.

You, yeah, you revealed your identity on the way back. So, I hope that there will be a movement and a shift to more awareness and that it's a bit about education and it's a bit of a, probably getting the UI, right. Again, like, like Leo said on that too, so that, and you treat your, your wallet or your wallet interface more like your wallet with [00:27:00] cash, where you choose what you're spending, because it is not fungible.

Right? Another thing in regard to running your node, what, I saw recently, what I think is very interesting is what, there with Blockstream satellite, where. For example, if you don't want your ISP to see you're running a node, or you cannot because maybe Bitcoin is illegal where you are.

that I think you're now able to sync a Bitcoin node completely by a Blockstream  satellite, without connecting to the internet. So that I think is pretty cool too.

Stephan Livera: Right. And that's the new, Blockstream satellite version too where now you can, where previously, I think it had like the last day of , blockchain data.

Whereas now you can literally go zero to hero the whole way with Blockstream satellite and they're selling the kits now as well. So. That's also very useful for anyone who is trying to operate in a more, let's say adversarial environment. so look, we've only got a couple minutes left. Have you guys maybe just want to [00:28:00] take, say 30 seconds each and just talk about, you know, closing thoughts on what you think bitcoiners should be thinking about from a privacy perspective.

Let's start with you, Leo.

Leo Weese:  I think if you are enthusiastic about Bitcoin, you should invest, maybe just a 50 or a hundred us dollars into like a little mini PC that you keep at home and then just install all the stuff you think you need for yourself. And I think many of you will find that a very fun exercise and you will probably start with a Bitcoin node and go over to a lightening node.

And eventually. Configure all of that via Tor. And then you will find yourself maybe installing a chat server as well, or running your own like jitsi instance. and, I think going on that path is a very like enlightening exercise, that will translate into like some very visible benefits for you and yourself as far as money and communication go.

Stephan Livera: Great, Keto?

Ketominer: Yeah, and I, I think also, [00:29:00] not, don't underestimate uncle Jimmy, as Matt says, running all that home and give access to your family and friends to it. that's something you can also do because maybe not every home needs a node or can have a node because no permanent internet connection or stuff, but you have at least someone you trust more or less that can give you access to a node.

Stephan Livera: Excellent.

And Lina, any final tips from yourself?

Lina Seiche: Yeah, I think, especially if you're not very technical, right. And then that may sound very intimidating to you and then you just get started out and you realize, Bitcoin is completely public, and my financial information could be out there and viewed by anybody.

And you want to do something, but you don't know where to start. I think it's good to take a step by step. Because anything you do is probably better than doing nothing. So, so it starts by, looking at simple things like new address generation, and then going further by seeing, you know, do I want to use a VPN and where am I, [00:30:00] where am I physically when I'm using Bitcoin, when I'm sending, am I using public WIFI?

I'm at home? those kinds of things, it's a. It's a very, there's a lot of things that you can do to improve your privacy. And not only online, there's a lot of things. And I think if you just take it step by step, then it will be much less scary, and you will get more interested in it as you go along. And it'll just motivate you to learn more about it.

Stephan Livera: Fantastic. Well, thank you, Lina. Thank you. Ketominer and Leo. Thanks for joining us. That is all we've got time for. So we will see you in the citadels.