Free Cities and Privacy have more to do with each other than appears at first glance. While part of this is a function of those interested in Free Cities, it is also my contention that due to the competition in governance created by Free Cities, emphasis on privacy will increase in Free Cities over time as they look to separate themselves from traditional governance models.


Why Privacy Is Indispensable

Privacy is a fundamental human right. It is nothing but absolutely critical for a number of reasons:

  1. Autonomy: Privacy gives individuals a space to think and act without being watched or judged, and is crucial to self-determination and personal autonomy.
  2. Freedom of Thought and Speech: Privacy is a key part of freedom of thought and speech, enabling individuals to explore and express their ideas without fear of retaliation or judgment.
  3. Individuality: In the absence of privacy, we are all under pressure to conform to societal norms and expectations, reducing diversity and individuality. To truly appreciate diversity you must allow for the privacy necessary for individual thought and creativity.
  4. Dignity: Privacy allows individuals to keep personal matters to themselves, maintaining their dignity. Without privacy, personal information can be used to humiliate, exploit or even bribe or extort individuals.
  5. Safety and Security: Privacy helps protect personal data from misuse, which can lead to identity theft, financial loss, or other harm. This is increasingly important in the digital age where vast amounts of personal information are stored and transmitted online.
  6. Maintaining Relationships: Privacy is essential for maintaining different kinds of relationships, including family, friendships, and professional relations. Certain information shared within a relationship is often expected to remain within that relationship. Different people and different relationships play different roles in a healthy society. To allow people and relationships to perform these functions we must allow for discretionary information flow – another term for privacy.
  7. Balancing Power: Privacy helps to balance power between individuals and large institutions, such as governments or corporations. Without privacy, these institutions are able to misuse personal information for their own ends, opening the door to abuses of power.
  8. Flourishing Society: Privacy plays an important role in free societies, as it allows for freedom of political association, protects activists and dissenters, and supports a robust civil society. It’s crucial for citizens to have a private sphere where they can freely express political views.
  9. Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Business: Privacy allows those with interesting ideas and business opportunities to have the ability to quietly build their business and value proposition model. Confidential mechanisms, ingredients, or processes are necessary for the world to innovate and grow.

While many argue that privacy must be balanced with safety, the more thoughtful among us realize that without privacy there is no safety. In other words, there is no safety without privacy.

Privacy in the Digital Era

While privacy, in general, is extremely important, in the digital age with international trade flows, banking transfers, and travel, privacy online and securing your most important and confidential information is even more important than ever before. Privacy online is critically important for many of the same reasons that privacy is generally important. But the digital environment brings some unique challenges and considerations:

  1. Identity and Financial Protection: Privacy online is necessary to protect against identity theft and financial fraud. When personal information is shared online, it can be exploited by cybercriminals. This can lead to unauthorized transactions, damage to your credit rating, and other serious problems.
  2. Prevention of Unwanted Marketing and Spam: If your personal information is shared widely online, it can be used by marketers to inundate you with unwanted advertising and spam, often based on your browsing habits or personal preferences.
  3. Freedom of Expression: Online privacy helps to protect freedom of expression. People can more freely express their views and explore new ideas if they know that their activities aren’t being constantly tracked and recorded.
  4. Data Profiling and Manipulation: Companies routinely collect data about online behaviors to create detailed profiles of individuals. These profiles can be used not only to target advertisements but also to influence behavior, for example, by manipulating the content you see on social media or news sites.
  5. Cyberstalking and Harassment: Personal information that is available online can be used by stalkers or harassers to intimidate or harm individuals. Privacy tools can help to protect against such abuse.
  6. Digital Reputation and Future Opportunities: Information posted online can often be difficult to fully remove and can have long-term impacts on an individual’s reputation. This can affect future employment opportunities, personal relationships, and more.
  7. Government Surveillance: Privacy online is critical for protecting against government surveillance. While some governments implement privacy protections, all governments can and do monitor online activities, which can lead to a chilling effect on freedom of speech and association.
  8. Data Breaches: Even when data is shared with seemingly trustworthy companies, there’s always a risk that the data could be exposed in a data breach. Data breaches can lead to a wide range of harms, including identity theft and financial fraud.
  9. Wealth Threat Vectors: Bitcoin and other digital currencies and assets have become more popular. While Bitcoin in particular results in significant benefits for many of its users, its pseudonymity can be a potential threat vector to the sophisticated criminal that can track what address belongs to any given individual.

Given the centrality of the internet to modern life, online privacy has become a fundamental aspect of overall privacy. As such, it’s important to be aware of the risks and to take steps to protect your privacy online.

How Free Cities Protect Privacy

While Free Cities may come in all shapes and sizes, there are a number of reasons to believe that they will be better stewards of resident information and privacy, may collect less information overall, and will encourage the human right to privacy in general. We can speculate on potential ways in which a Free City might increase privacy, based on the degree of autonomy and the specific regulations in place:

  1. Strong Privacy Regulations: Free Cities with autonomy might choose to enact strong privacy regulations that exceed those of the national government, thus providing greater protection for personal data. This is a likely differentiator to attract residents to the Free City.
  2. Advanced Technology and Infrastructure: Depending on their resources, Free Cities might implement advanced digital infrastructure designed with privacy in mind, such as secure communication networks and data storage systems. Free Cities may also implement digital technology (i.e. communications, digital identity, and more) that is based on cryptography thereby increasing the performance of required identifying detail regimes without exposing the collected data to potential theft or leaks. 
  3. Limited Government Surveillance: Free Cities will likely limit government surveillance, either by enacting strong legal protections or by refraining from implementing mass surveillance technologies.
  4. Transparency and Accountability: Free Cities might implement measures to increase transparency and accountability for data processing activities, which can help to protect privacy. Like number 2 above, Free Cities may simply not collect this information at all but use cryptographic mechanisms to verify necessary details on an as-needed basis. 
  5. Privacy Education and Advocacy: Free Cities might prioritize privacy education and advocacy, helping residents to understand the importance of privacy and how to protect their own privacy. Free Cities supporters are often privacy advocates and understand the fundamental human right to privacy. It seems likely that Free Cities will either on their own or through residents in the Free City implement educational and other programs on the use of tools to increase privacy and the potential downsides of not utilizing basic privacy protections.
  6. Competitive Market for Privacy Services: With their economic freedom, Free Cities might foster a competitive market for privacy services, encouraging businesses to offer products and services that protect privacy. This seems quite likely given the support base of Free Cities at this time.

Again, these are just possibilities. The actual impact on privacy would depend on a variety of factors, including the specific laws and policies in place, the level of autonomy from the national government, the available resources, the cultural norms, and so on. 

As a caveat, while Free Cities could theoretically be designed by data-collecting wannabe tyrants, the incredible value of privacy would drive customers away from such a business model. Furthermore, in the present day, Free Cities are unequivocally pro-privacy institutions compared to traditional government, and their supporters are making sure that privacy is one of the priorities of this movement. A new era of improved privacy — and with it freedom and security — might be coming with the advent of Free Cities.

This blog post is an amended version of an article originally published in Escape Artist Insiders Magazine in June 2023. Visit their website for more articles, information and advice on becoming an expat or digital nomad.