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Israel’s Central Bank Pushes Digital Shekel

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To accelerate its central bank digital currency (CBDC) development, Israel is pushing forward with the digital shekel initiative. The Bank of Israel (BoI) is set to collaborate with a range of service providers to create a sophisticated digital payment system based on this new currency.

Central Bank Digital Currencies have sparked significant controversy, particularly concerning privacy and civil liberties. One of the primary concerns is the potential for increased surveillance. Unlike cash transactions, which offer a high degree of anonymity, CBDC transactions could be meticulously tracked and monitored by central banks. This capability to log and trace every transaction made with CBDCs could severely undermine financial privacy, allowing governments to gather extensive data on individuals’ spending habits and personal financial activities.

Related: Fed Governor Admits CBDCs Pose “Significant” Privacy Risks

Moreover, the enhanced government control over the money supply that CBDCs could provide raises further issues. With CBDCs, authorities might more easily freeze or seize assets without due process, potentially misusing this power to target political opponents or suppress dissent. The concept of programmable money, where the government could dictate how, where, and when money can be spent, also poses a risk. While this could be utilized for beneficial purposes such as directing stimulus funds, it also opens the door to excessive control over individual financial behavior.

Israel’s central bank outlined its plans in an announcement, revealing the launch of the “Digital Shekel Challenge.” This initiative, inspired by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) Innovation Hub’s “Project Rosalind,” aims to explore advanced API prototypes. The BIS project, conducted in partnership with the Bank of England, serves as a model for this Israeli endeavor.

Within the framework of the challenge, the BoI will offer a sandbox environment equipped with an API layer. Participants will compete to develop real-time CBDC payment solutions designed for widespread public use.

Related: Biden Signals Plan To Destroy Financial Anonymity With CBDCs

Shauli Rejwan, managing partner at Masterkey Venture Capital in Tel Aviv, shed light on the program’s structure in an interview. He described the challenge as a three-phase process: initial applications and presentations, subsequent access to the new network for selected projects, and a final presentation to a panel of judges, many of whom are prominent figures in the crypto community.

“This initiative is a significant step for the Israeli ecosystem, potentially bridging the gap between the web3 industry and government, even though DeFi, ZK, and permissionless solutions are not yet being considered,” said Rejwan.

Invitations for participation have been extended to entities from the private sector, public institutions, and academic circles. The central bank emphasized a preference for innovative and original uses within the payments domain, whether these are enhancements to existing systems or entirely new applications.

The initiative also allows participants to tailor their solutions to specific niches and unique scenarios, despite the universal applicability of CBDCs.

Critics also worry about the implications of CBDCs on financial inclusion and freedom. While proponents argue that CBDCs could help provide banking access to the unbanked, the same technology could be exploited to exclude or discriminate against certain groups. This could lead to situations where access to financial services is restricted based on compliance with government policies, thus eroding personal freedoms and potentially integrating into social credit systems where financial privileges are tied to behavior.

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