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Privacy and Emergency Payments in a Pandemic: How to Think about Privacy and a Central Bank Digital Currency


The economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted many governments to provide emergency payments to citizens. These one-off and recurring payments revealed the shortcomings of existing financial infrastructures even as electronic payments replaced cash for everyday expenses. Delays in getting government payments to citizens in many countries focused attention on the potential benefits of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). This article outlines the social and economic policy choices involved in designing a CBDC and the consequences of these choices for privacy. Priorities including preventing the criminal abuse of the financial system, geopolitical concerns and private sector innovation compete with, and potentially undermine, privacy. We identify and categorize four key privacy risks as ‘losses’ associated with current CBDC models: loss of anonymity, loss of liberty, loss of individual control, and loss of regulatory control.

Published: 2021-05-04
Pages:6 to 17
Section: Roundtable: Privacy and Pandemics
How to Cite
Rennie, Ellie, and Stacey Steele. 2021. “Privacy and Emergency Payments in a Pandemic: How to Think about Privacy and a Central Bank Digital Currency”. Law, Technology and Humans 3 (1):6-17.

Author Biographies

RMIT University
Australia Australia

Ellie Rennie is a Professor and ARC Future Fellow at RMIT University, working across the Digital Ethnography Research Centre, the Blockchain Innovation Hub, and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society. 

Melbourne Law School, The University of Melbourne
Australia Australia

Stacey Steele is A/Professor at Melbourne Law School and A/Director (Japan) at the Asian Law Centre, University of Melbourne. She is also a practicing lawyer specialising in financial services, privacy and data protection. In addition to many published articles and thought leadership commentaries, Stacey is the co-editor of Match-Fixing in Sport: Comparative Studies from Australia, Japan, Korea and Beyond (Routledge, 2018) with Hayden Opie; Internationalising Japan: Discourse and Practice (Routledge, 2014) with Jeremy Breaden and Carolyn Stevens; and Legal Education in Asia: Globalization, Change and Contexts (Routledge, 2010) with Kathryn Taylor.

Open Access Journal
ISSN 2652-4074