WASHINGTON, D.C. (Nov. 14, 2023) — Today, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) launched the Central Bank Digital Currency Tracker, a pioneering initiative that maps the development and global implementation of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). This project represents a 10-month collaborative effort between HRF and a team of researchers with backgrounds in central bank policy, digital rights, and privacy. According to HRF research, 119 of the world’s 193 governments are currently researching, piloting, or deploying CBDCs.
CBDCs are digital national currencies that are liabilities of a nation’s central bank. Unlike traditional paper cash, CBDCs are digital, easily traceable, freezable, and subject to micro-control by public officials. Given their potential to shift the balance of power towards governments and away from citizens in areas such as payments, savings, commerce, and privacy, CBDCs demand the attention of human rights groups, geopolitical scholars, policymakers, and economic think tanks.
While various initiatives are currently tracking CBDC adoption, HRF’s new initiative stands out with its unique focus on how CBDCs will impact the civil liberties and human rights of people living under authoritarian regimes. Belarus, China, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and Turkey are examples of autocracies currently piloting or deploying CBDCs.
Key findings from the CBDC Tracker include:
– A global trend: The majority of the world’s governments (62%) are actively researching, building, or deploying CBDCs, despite very little public awareness on the topic.
– Authoritarians lead the way: Dictatorships are leading the charge in CBDC deployment. HRF estimates that 3.7 billion people (46% of the world population) are living under autocracies currently experimenting with CBDCs.
– Vanishing privacy: CBDCs may upend traditional privacy norms as they replace paper cash, serving as tools of surveillance and control, especially in dictatorships
– Peer pressure: CBDC adoption is accelerating globally, with few major governments abstaining from the process.
– Adoption challenges: Retail adoption of CBDCs in places like China and Nigeria faces major hurdles. Citizens are skeptical. Governments should be expected to force the issue.
– Government and corporate collaboration: Governments are likely to partner with commercial banks or fintech companies to distribute CBDCs via existing banking or mobile applications.