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.