This post has been collaboratively authored by early members of the Namada community.
Today, we live in a space caught between a current world dominated by pervasive surveillance and a singular cultural narrative, and a potential future where privacy safeguards freedom and diverse cultural expressions thrive. Namada is a network of individuals and communities united around one mission:
To build a portal between public and private worlds.
Let’s start by unpacking a foundational question: what is privacy? Often, we associate privacy with the act of concealment—like enclosing a letter in an envelope to shield its content from unauthorized eyes, or donning a mask at a masquerade to preserve anonymity. In a world where light rays bounce around everywhere, acts of concealment like these are integral to maintaining privacy. But we do not live solely in the physical world anymore - we live simultaneously in the digital one, and privacy in the digital sphere is of rather a different sort. When we speak of digital privacy, we are usually not talking about protecting our circuits from light rays, but rather programming them to reveal precisely the information we want to reveal. Privacy as we mean it is not about hiding, but about revealing.
Privacy is the freedom to reveal, and this freedom is for everyone. Free expression without the fear of retribution requires the freedom to reveal different opinions to different people at different times. Free assembly without the fear of repression requires the freedom to coordinate in private and demonstrate in public. A functioning state needs the freedom to reveal policies and actions, and the freedom not to reveal all the details of its internal operations. Self-protection by minorities and disenfranchised groups requires the freedom not to reveal aspects of their identities and lifestyles which might meet with rejection by mainstream society, and participation in society requires the freedom to reveal aspects which they do want to share. Falling in love with someone involves, in part, gradually revealing yourselves to one another.
Public blockchains do not provide this freedom to reveal. When you use Bitcoin or Ethereum, you must choose between sending a transparent transaction that reveals everything about your interaction to everyone in the world, or not interacting with the system at all. Your choice is binary - interact and reveal all, or opt-out and reveal nothing - there are no options in between. If our industry aims to offer a viable alternative to financial, economic, and communication infrastructure which relies on trusted third parties, privacy is not an optional feature - privacy is table stakes.
Namada as it exists today includes three related components:
First, Namada is a protocol - open-source software which you can download and run - that supports multi-chain asset-agnostic privacy. The Namada protocol builds on prior protocol art, especially that of Cosmos and Zcash, in order to provide shielded payments with state of the art privacy to existing and next generation blockchain networks and assets.
Second, Namada is a token - a transferable, fungible asset - issued, distributed, and accounted for by the Namada protocol, and available for use by the Namada network. The Namada token is designed to be continuously issued and redistributed in order to align incentives of network participants with the benefit of the whole. The token may also be used by network participants as a preference elicitation mechanism for network and protocol governance.
Third, and most importantly, Namada is a network of people and communities united around this mission of building a portal between these public and private worlds. The Namada protocol and token are designed to serve and aid this network in realizing this mission.
The need for privacy has not gone unrecognized. Since the launch of Zcash in 2016, many ecosystem participants have been working towards such privacy. Realizing privacy in crypto is no small feat, however, and we’re not there yet - most assets and transactions live on public blockchains, and most users don’t have privacy. Additionally, most applications that we use for day-to-day collaboration are not developed with privacy in mind. To understand where we are, it is helpful to zoom out and examine the broad patterns of privacy in the ecosystem over time. We can understand privacy-in-crypto as happening in three eras: the era of privacy as an asset, the era of privacy as a service, and the era of privacy as a default. Let’s break it down:
The era of privacy as an asset started with Zcash. Zcash extended the Bitcoin protocol with privacy in an attempt to launch a privacy-preserving currency for the internet. In this era, there were many competing cryptocurrencies or “altcoins” (usually forked from Bitcoin, like Zcash), and assets and features were tightly coupled - you could choose to either use Zcash and get privacy, or use some other cryptocurrency without it, but you couldn’t choose to use Zcash’s privacy with your asset of choice, because there was no interoperability.
The era of privacy as a service started with the launch of Tornado Cash on Ethereum. In this era, blockchains are interoperable, so assets and features are not so tightly coupled - but privacy is still scarce in the interoperable crypto ecosystem, and you have to move your assets to those places in order to get it. We’re still in this era - projects such as Tornado Cash, Namada, Penumbra, and Nocturne all aim to provide privacy as a service that you can use with your existing assets.
The era of privacy as a default still lies far in the future. In particular, privacy as a default will require a perfect fusion of privacy and interoperability. Regardless of the mechanism, in order for privacy as a default to even be conceivable, we need more privacy now. Most blockchains are public, and most assets aren’t shielded. Zcash demonstrated that privacy on a blockchain was possible, but no one has yet managed to make it practical for the majority of blockchain ecosystem users.
It is for this reason that we started Namada. The mission of Namada is to build a portal between these public and private worlds.
What would it look like for Namada to accomplish its mission? There is no one true metric, but here are several solid ones:
First, we can measure the percentage of cryptocurrency tokens (by relative market capitalization) that are shielded at rest. This includes, for example, shielded assets on Zcash, Namada, Penumbra, Aleo, Anoma, Aztec, etc. - any well-designed shielded pool counts. Privacy is created by assets shielded at rest, so by and large, more assets shielded at rest means more privacy available for users. We should also measure technical stability: are assets that are shielded remaining secure, or are there incidents of them being drained in exploits?
Second, we can measure whether users understand what privacy means in the context of blockchains, and whether they know how to use it safely, by examining the data which remains public (e.g. are there easy linkability attacks). Especially in a cross-chain world, privacy properties become intricate and complex, and the availability of privacy technology alone is not sufficient - privacy education is paramount.
Third, we can look at the world to see whether we’re moving towards positive and effective relations with stakeholders in our ecosystem (e.g. are regulations clear about what information might need to be disclosed in certain circumstances; are users clear about how to use the technology to do this when required; is the protocol use dominated by non-nefarious use). Accomplishing the mission of Namada will require broad awareness of the current state of blockchain privacy and commitment of resources to efforts that help move us into a future state where privacy is both a personal and general default.
How can we accomplish this mission? At first, bringing privacy to public blockchains looks like quite a daunting task - the ecosystem is nothing if not fragmented; there’s a menagerie of protocols, communities, assets, and ideas - but we can break it down into three parts: we need shared values, we need a plan, and we need some allies.
First, we need shared values. Shared values guide our decisions individually and collectively, and commitment to shared values aligns our decisions for mutual benefit. We propose three such commitments.
Use privacy together. First, we commit to a mindset of privacy-first realism. Sending a payment? Creating a multisig? Designing a DAO? Make it private, and give yourself and your community the freedom to reveal. If you have a passion for privacy and the freedom to advocate for it, champion privacy-driven designs in your communities, campaign for privacy-preserving transaction avenues, and demand the right to privacy from your tools, protocols, and products. Do you believe that we need to work at a civil liberty level when it comes to privacy rights? Write a letter to your local government officials! Simultaneously, as privacy pragmatists, we’re acutely aware that the user experience of privacy-first tools can be challenging. On our pathway to privacy, we judiciously weigh the tradeoffs of the tools we use in practice, ensuring that our mission remains open to as many as possible.
Educate ourselves about privacy. Second, we commit to collaboratively educate ourselves about privacy. The nature of privacy is not well understood, either in the blockchain ecosystem or in public consciousness at large. Privacy is often understood as a kind of hiding, but there is really no such thing. Rather, privacy is about revealing, as freedom of action is impossible without it. Practicing privacy in crypto safely - even with Namada - is no easy task, so we must build a base of understanding and practical guidance in order to help ourselves, our friends, and our communities.
Collaborate to build privacy. Third, we commit to collaborate in order to build privacy tooling and privacy culture, and to engender continued collaboration by establishing a tradition of reciprocity. Reciprocity means acknowledging the work that has come before, finding people who are already helping us, and helping them. The Namada protocol implements a public goods funding system so that this reciprocity can be not only verbal but also material - we should understand the Namada token as something to be distributed on the reciprocal basis of aiding and furthering of our mission. In addition, we commit to collaborate on communal storytelling: if we are to shape our future, we have to shape the narrative.
Second, we need a plan. A plan orders and coordinates the actions that we must execute together in order to accomplish this vision of bringing privacy to a large slice of the crypto ecosystem.
First, we propose to bring privacy to Cosmos. Cosmos’s philosophy of political polycentrism is one in which privacy matches perfectly, and Cosmos’s interoperability technology can make privacy as a service cheap, easy, and fast. We’ll need the Namada protocol, the Penumbra protocol, the Anoma protocol, and many more shielded pools to boot. We’ll need shielded actions so that users can keep their assets shielded most of the time, but still use the applications they know and love. We’ll need tooling for measuring how privacy is going, both individually and collectively - for example, what shielded level do you have in your wallet, how private is this transaction which you are about to send, and what fraction of Cosmos assets are private. We’ll need tooling for revealing information when you want to - imagine an NFT profile picture that you could reveal to specific parties only, a tool where you could donate to your favorite public goods privately, then reveal that you have done so, and application and wallet integrations across the Cosmos to make getting privacy a matter of a few button clicks.
Second, we propose to bring privacy to Ethereum. This will require approaches and tooling both similar and different. Namada’s Ethereum bridge - and other Ethereum bridges in the Cosmos - can provide the protocol substrate, but we’ll also need to think about interoperability with the diverse ecosystem of Ethereum rollups, applications, wallets, and users. We’ll need to build tooling for shielded actions on Ethereum, shielded DAO voting, shielded data availability, and whatever else Ethereum users might want to do privately. We’ll need to interface with the Ethereum community in order to communicate clearly what privacy means, what the protocols can and cannot do, how privacy might interface with law, and how best to obtain privacy while retaining the many affordances which Ethereum already offers them.
Third, we propose to bring privacy to the rest of the stack. Privacy is not only a core protocol feature - we also need to build privacy at the networking layer (perhaps with mixnets such as Nym and Hopr), privacy at the indexing layer, and privacy at the application layer. We need to bring privacy up through the stack until it’s truly end-to-end: if one person pays another privately using, no data or metadata should leak anywhere. Eventually, we’ll need to expand into the physical domain: anti-surveillance clothing and gear, open-source privacy-preserving hardware, privacy-preserving architecture and resource provisioning, and more. Privacy is full-stack or not at all, and full-stack privacy means privacy everywhere.
Third, and finally, we need allies. Namada stands on the shoulders of giants - previous projects such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Zcash, and Cosmos, parallel projects such as Penumbra, Aztec, and Aleo, and too many individual contributors to name. The increasing growth and evolution of crypto products and services will demand more efforts in meeting the privacy needs of a growing crypto ecology, so we must continue to grow the collaborative community privacy mindset – many hands make for light work. We need to recruit fellow travelers who share this mission and coordinate together. We also need to allocate credit and compensate work appropriately, both initially at genesis with retroactive public goods funding and over time with Namada’s continuous public goods funding mechanisms. We’ve proposed a strategic alliance with Zcash and a partnership with Osmosis, both in this direction - but we need much more. Privacy loves company - and the more company, the more privacy.
In the end, the protocols and software are the easy part. If Namada is really to build a portal between public and private worlds, we need your help. Namada isn’t about a particular group of people, a particular chain, or a particular token - it’s about a vision of a world of freedom-protecting privacy and sociocultural plurality, and a shared will to make that vision a reality.
The Namada community