Total Financial Surveillance Is Only Possible in a Cashless Society
A push towards cashless-only payments will pave the way for ‘the inevitability of more granular surveillance than ever’, enabling scrutiny and control by banks, businesses and governments. ‘Beware the dangers of a cashless society’, says Silkie Carlo—Director of British civil liberties NGO Big Brother Watch—in a recent opinion piece for The Telegraph newspaper.
Noting the opportunity presented to the financial technology sector by the pandemic—during which cashless options were wrongly promoted as being safer than cash—Carlo points out that people are already being monitored by cashless payment providers, with every purchase digitally recorded for analysis and potential sale to interested third parties.
The problem with a cashless society is that it is a surveillance society. And not only can governments, banks and tech companies monitor what you have earned and spent in a cashless world, they can pre-emptively control it too.
Carlo quotes Agustín Carstens of the Bank for International Settlements, who observed at an International Money Fund event that a centralised digital currency would allow banks ‘absolute control over the rules and regulations of the use of that expression of central bank liability’ while providing them ‘the technology to enforce that.’
Carlo cites existing examples of fintech companies intervening in people’s spending, such as PayPal freezing WikiLeaks’ account in 2010 and, more recently, the Canadian government freezing the bank accounts of people associated with the ‘Freedom Convoy’ movement.
The increasingly extinct practice of carrying cash is one of the most disempowering side effects of our technological future, and exacerbates risk for those already vulnerable.
Carlo highlights the plight of people living in abusive households, whose ability to slowly build up enough cash to escape is removed should cards and mobile wallets—easily tracked and controlled by an abuser—become the only way to pay. Anyone lacking a bank account, or who simply refuses to have a ‘digital identity’ is locked out of a cashless economy.
The British public has far more privacy, control and genuine ownership of our money using hard cash with the Queen’s face to pay than using our facial biometrics.