How Valuable is Your Privacy? A Cashless Society Would Transform Your Life


In the past few years, governments around the world have given signs of their wishes to progressively get rid of cash and to some extent become ‘cashless societies’. In their rhetoric, nothing but advantages to it. Today, the transition has already started, with the 500 Euro banknote discontinued, laws making payments in cash more difficult in several countries, and today a new roadmap for cashless society. But do we have anything to gain from it?

On January 23rd 2017, the EU Commission issued the ‘Commission Initiative Roadmap’ for 2018, which translates the ‘payments restriction initiative’, a detailed plan on how the EU wants to go cashless in the coming years. The action plan states that ‘payments in cash are widely used in the financing of terrorist activities’. In other words, ‘kill cash and you will kill terrorism’. With that argument in mind, it is almost impossible to advocate against the announced plan of a cashless society. No one wants to see any other terror attack and if there is anything we can do to prevent them to happen, then yes, we will do so.

However, there is a major issue in that rhetoric. Yes, some terrorists may have used cash (but they have also used credit cards and online payments) and so has every single human being on the planet. Can you think of any other legislation that was passed where the comfort of the majority of the citizens was changed in order to prevent a minority from perpetuating bad things?

Let’s put it in another way. The argument is not much smarter than to say “terrorists use cars to commit their atrocities, so we have to go carless.” Think about the protest that would rise if any government dared to do so. Of course, none will ever do that for a simple reason: cars generate money, money generates taxes and the governments benefit from it.

Now cash isn’t exactly the same. Cash is a right, not a mercantile object. It guarantees every citizen some form of freedom. Freedom to dispose of your own money the way you want. Freedom to earn it, to use it, to save it, to give it without being judged, without having to justify it, without having to keep records of it.

Cash is a right that represents privacy. Cut out the banknotes and coins and you can fully eradicate these basic freedoms, and make every single money movement trackable, recordable and potentially subjected to a fee. Today countries like France, Canada or the Netherlands still have a majority of their payment volumes made in cash (respectively 56, 53 and 52%) (1), the U.S just went under the bar of 50% while countries like Germany or Austria are still attached to their cash (82% share of payment volume made in cash in Germany, 65% in Austria). That is when looking at the western world. If we look at a continent like Africa, 99% of transactions are still made in cash, 98% in Asia Pacific, 91% in Latin America.

Yes, electronic payments and online payments represent a technological progress and it can be much more convenient at times. I myself love to use my credit card and have been using it more and more in the past years, but that doesn’t make me want to get rid of cash, far from it. Even if I was not to use cash any longer I’d still value the freedom that is behind it. There are some purchases I like to make in cash because I don’t wish to have it recorded or trackable. Does that make me a terrorist? I think it just makes me a regular citizen attached to the values of privacy and equal liberties.

Today, the shift to a cashless society continues to snowball. The consequences are multiple. For the banks, less cash and less privacy can only be profitable. To them, it means more data about your consumption habits. Today these data files are extremely valuable (they are the reason why you receive targeted adds when you surf online and see pop-up ads that relate to your consumption habits). Less privacy is also profitable to the governments, as it’s an easier way to control the masses including by the taxes.

But for you, is it really profitable? Will these new measures stop terrorism? Absolutely not, as we know for a fact that if they can’t use cash, people with bad intentions will use other means of payments, but once the laws are passed and the printing of banknotes suspended, there is no backtracking and the good citizens will be the first impacted by these legislations.

The cashless roadmap proposed by the EU could rapidly be generalized in western democracies. Regardless if we use cash or not, we all value our privacy and these measures could very well mean the total death of both cash and privacy.

(1) Federal Reserve Date, Quartz


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s