Is the Death Of Cash, the Death of Privacy?

In war, a tried-and-true strategy to make killing the enemy easier is to depersonalize and demonize him. Hence words such as “kraut”, “slope” “gook,” and the like have been part of the lexicon of war. A recent article appearing in The Long and Short describes a new battle which is evolving into a fully fledged war  on paying with cash. And it uses a similar tactic by inferring that to pay with cash is somehow evil and unpatriotic.

Outfits such as Visa have embarked upon an orchestrated effort to be seen as a patriotic, paternal player in the money game by attempting to make paying with cash to be  seen  something that is weird. This undertaking is more than just an effort by the banks and card companies to monetize everything. It represents a bona fide threat to privacy, as a result of a cashless society. For as a quid pro quo of the convenience of financial institutions talking among themselves, reams of personal data are being accumulated about you and the transaction taking place.

Because when you utilize cash as a method of payment, bank card companies and banks can’t collect a fee – hence their incentive to help cash to an early grave. They are slowly but surely winning this “war on cash” in fits and starts, banging the drum of modernity along the way – notably with Visa’s recent “Cashfree and Proud” ad campaign. London bus drivers, for example, stopped accepting cash for fares two years ago, but will accept MasterCard or Visa. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, as Visa’s long-term plan in the UK is to make cash “peculiar” by the year 2020. And Visa and MasterCard are not alone in this conspiracy.

PayPal has chimed in with the promotion, “New money isn’t paper, it’s progress.” Not to be outdone, American Express has proclaimed No Cash Day. And to drive home the rationale for this war, other tactics have been employed which include pointing out that criminals use cash, that it fuels the shadow economy, that it’s unsafe, and that it facilitates tax evasion. The safety argument is especially specious. Quick! What would you rather forfeit – your wallet or your online banking information? And as far as tax avoidance goes, seems to me that it’s electronic transfers getting the job done rather than piles of cash being transferred around the world.

But the cashless society prognosticators are not to be denied. If they can’t make you feel unpatriotic for using cash, or positively prehistoric, they will try to portray a cashless society as a fait accompli and that you’re missing the boat by not participating.

Saying something like “All over the world, people are switching to digital payments” is not there to describe what other people want. It’s there to tell you what you should want by making you feel out of sync with them. This propaganda has had some success but could leave many people in the lurch, notably those without indelible ID markers, poor credit histories or, believe it or not, no bank accounts.

The World Bank estimates that there are two billion adults without bank accounts, and even those who do have them still often rely upon the informal flexibility of cash for everyday transactions.

They are often referred to as the shadow economy, but need not necessarily be poor people. Many just prefer to be off the grid to some extent. In other words, they value privacy and a degree of anonymity, but are by no means criminal. Don’t get me wrong; digital, electronic transactions are a convenience in many instances. I travel extensively, and prefer in many instances to use a bank card. But I also know that I am sacrificing something by using my card, and telegraphing not only my travel habits (including my movements), but also my financial and, perhaps, lifestyle preferences.

One’s spending patterns reveal much about how one actually lives, and the privacy implications of having these recorded in searchable database format are only starting to be uncovered.  You have to have been asleep for many years not to be aware of the mass surveillance epidemic sweeping the globe. The totally cashless society plays right into their hands.

In the worst case scenario, an innocent citizen could be flagged for just having had a few transactions not be in accordance with a newly accepted “norm”. In short, there is a danger that we will be living in a society where everyone and everything is being monitored – all the time. First, it was personal correspondence, next is everyday monetary transactions, and with this comes the further erosion of privacy.

Stan Ward has enjoyed writing for 50 years. Writing has been a comfortable companion to a successful business and teaching career for him. Find him on Google+.

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