The Wall Street Journal reported that the NSA spies on Americans’ credit card transactions. Senators Wyden and Udall – both on the Senate Intelligence Committee, with access to all of the top-secret information about the government’s spying programs – write:
Section 215 of the Patriot Act can be used to collect any type of records whatsoever … including information on credit card purchases, medical records, library records, firearm sales records, financial information and a range of other sensitive subjects.
The IRS will be spying on Americans’ shopping records, travel, social interactions, health records and files from other government investigators.
The Consumer Financial Protection Board will also spy on the finances of millions of Americans.
Various agencies are also tracking our debit card transactions.
Indeed, as Gizmodo’s Matt Novak notes, researchers predicted this in 1971:
In late October of 1971 a group of academics and technologists gathered at a conference at Georgetown. They were given the task of devising the most comprehensive (yet invisible) surveillance program imaginable. What they came up with sounds an awful lot like our current debit card system.
This was the question posed to the researchers in 1971:
Suppose you were an advisor to the head of the KGB, the Soviet Secret Police. Suppose you are given the assignment of designing a system for the surveillance of all citizens and visitors within the boundaries of the USSR. The system is not to be too obtrusive or obvious. What would be your decision?
What amazing, unobtrusive surveillance system did they come up with? It wasn’t a network of intercepting every phone call or placing cameras on every street corner. They imagined an electronic funds transfer system, or EFTS—a system that looks strikingly similar to the debit card system we all use today.
“Not only would it handle all the financial accounting and provide the statistics crucial to a centrally planned economy,” Paul Armer wrote in 1975 recounting the KGB-infused thought experiment. “It was the best surveillance system we could imagine within the constraint that it not be obtrusive.”
Armer was a computer scientist at RAND and an early advocate of digital privacy, long before people had debit cards, let alone access to the internet …. he thought that thiscashless society actually posed the greatest threat to the privacy of Americans.
Think for a moment about the information that banks collect every time you swipe your card. They know precisely where, when, and how you’re spending your money. After just a few transactions, anyone with access to that information can start to paint a pretty detailed picture of how you live your life. And perhaps most importantly, that picture is being painted without you giving it much thought at all.
In other words, if society becomes cashless, dissenters can’t hide cash. All of their transactions would be trackable, and all of the financial holdings would be vulnerable to seizure or attack by the government. This would be the ultimate form of control.