Townhall: We Cannot Ignore The Privacy Implications Of Going Cashless

This article was published by Townhall.

Little by little, our society is going cashless. More and more people are jettisoning cumbersome coins and notes in favor of the convenience of instant electronic transactions. They might be quicker and easier in the moment but going cashless comes with grave implications for our privacy which we risk forgetting.

When it comes to privacy, nothing comes close to cash. It is the most private form of transaction and the most anonymous. By contrast, electronic payments involve providing personal information not just to merchants, but also third parties.

Electronic payments, on the other hand, present privacy risks that cash payments do not. The convenience of paying electronically means, inevitably, your data and your money must be stored remotely elsewhere. That makes it vulnerable to being exposed in data breaches. It exposes you to fraud and makes your personal data ripe for hackers and other criminal actors.

It is easy to dismiss that idea as an abstract threat. What are the chances of that happening to me, you might ask. In fact, it probably already has happened to you. Alarming research suggests that 15 billion credentials are in circulation on dark web marketplaces used by criminals to trade stolen data.

Every time you sign up to a paid service which involves non-cash transactions, even something as innocuous as an online streaming service, you are willingly pouring information about yourself into yet another remote database. If someone nefarious accesses it from the backend, you will probably not find out until it is already too late.

The heart of the cashless debate is this. Any number of organizations currently hold your data as a result of online transactions you have completed in the past. Many will be organizations you have never directly interacted with, and perhaps never even heard of, since there are often several parties involved in the backend processing of payments. Do you truly have faith in the integrity and trustworthiness of each and every one of those organizations which know a great deal about you? In fact, how can you, since you do not know who all of them are?

Even more pertinently, do you trust that each of those organizations will take the proper care of your data, and guard it with the same vociferousness that you do yourself? They probably deal with personal information from thousands of different people at a time, as part of enormous spreadsheets. The slightest slipup can expose vulnerabilities to hackers, especially in the modern age where data can be retrieved from a laptop on the other side of the world without a trace.

More than crime, perhaps the greatest threats to privacy come from state actors. An increasing number of state and local governments have eliminated the ability to pay for access to key services like public transit and highways with cash. By going down this cashless path, they are encroaching on citizens’ privacy and increasing their ability to monitor and surveil the movements and activities of the population.

Politicians are not blind to the new powers they are acquiring as we abandon cash en masse. In fact, the federal government has become increasingly intrusive in monitoring transactions. For example, in 2020, federal regulators issued a proposed rule, “modifying the rule implementing the Bank Secrecy Act requiring financial institutions to collect and retain information on certain funds transfers and transmittals of funds,” lowering the threshold for reporting from “$3,000 to $250 for funds transfers and transmittals of funds that begin or end outside the United States.” This ought to be of grave concern to anyone who values their privacy and their independence from the government.

A cashless society would be a society with diminished privacy for all. When it comes to privacy, cash is still king. Naturally, the convenience and speed of electronic transactions is hard to resist. But we must not make momentous decisions like abandoning cash without first considering the risks, and ideally maintaining a prominent place for cash in our society and economy as a reliable fallback option.

There are accessibility risks in the rush to go cashless, too. Going cashless may freeze out the most vulnerable, those with lower incomes who cannot afford to tap away freely on contactless card machines and need to keep a close eye on how much money they have to get through the week. It also presents new barriers to completing simple, everyday tasks like buying groceries for those with some disabilities or who struggle with technology, like the elderly.

Of course, in the free market, businesses may abandon cash payments if they so wish, and their customer base has no objection. But as a society, we ought to consider carefully the possible risks of such a momentous shift in the way we trade and barter with each other.

Jason Reed is the spokesperson for Young Voices and a policy analyst and political commentator for a wide range of outlets. Follow him on Twitter @JasonReed624

GB News (Weekend Breakfast): Boris Johnson won’t rule out future lockdowns

I joined Stephen Dixon and Anne Diamond on the weekend edition of The Great British Breakfast in the GB News studio to react to an exclusive interview in which Boris Johnson refused to rule out future Covid lockdowns, and to discuss the controversy around Rishi Sunak’s wife’s non-dom tax status.

Counterpunch: Cash Bail For Non-Violent Offenders Is Costly, Harmful And Unconstitutional

This article was published by Counterpunch.

The American justice system is based on liberty, the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence – or so it should be. So why do we routinely incarcerate people for months or years before their trial has even begun?

The answer is money. If a judge sets cash bail for someone accused of committing a crime but they cannot afford to pay, they have no choice but to wait behind bars until their rial date. On any given day, an estimated 445,000 people are held pretrial in jails across the US – all of them presumed innocent, but all of them incarcerated. They represent a whopping 67% of the entire jail population.

Your tax dollars are going towards keeping people in jail who have not been found guilty of any crime. But even more worrying than the wasteful spending is the implications for justice.

A new study, The Hidden Costs of Pretrial Detention Revisited, exposes the harm done by keeping people in jail before their trial. Based on data from almost 1.5 million people jailed in Kentucky between 2009 and 2018, researchers found that any time spent in detention pretrial – even if only a short stretch – is bad for the public.

The study found a clear link between pretrial detention and a higher likelihood of arrest for a new crime before case deposition. Unsurprisingly, putting defendants behind bars before they have been tried did not inspire faith in the justice system, and in many cases seemed to lead to reoffending.

The cash bail system is broken. It undermines our constitutional rights – the sixth amendment specific the right to a speedy trial. The eighth amendment calls for reasonable bail and the fourteenth amendment guarantees the protection of liberty and property. By relying on cash bail and putting people behind bars because of their inability to pay up, we contravene their most basic rights.

Reforming the nation’s pretrial system is not about letting people with histories of violence go free. It’s about promoting risk-based decision making on a case-by-case basis that honors due process for the accused. Balanced reforms ensure judges and magistrates preserve individual liberty – which demands freedom from imprisonment until proven guilty – while providing the tools to protect public safety, including the use of pre-trial detention when deemed appropriate.

Keeping the public safe should be a priority for all parties but bail doesn’t achieve public safety. Jails overcrowded with defendants who pose little to no risk, who haven’t even been convicted of the crime they are being held for, and who are being kept away from their families, jobs, and communities, is the avoidable result of a system that doesn’t allow judges to find an appropriate balance between individual liberty and public safety on a case-by-case basis.

Reforming bail should be rooted in the presumption of innocence, right to due process and conservative tenets of freedom – grounded in natural rights to achieve the careful balance between liberty and public safety.  Getting this balance right is a test of a nation founded under the belief that among our natural rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Conservatives Global: Don’t be duped by fat cat green washers

This article was published by Conservatives Global.

UK supermarket chain Iceland has been forced to reverse a ban on using palm oil as an ingredient in its own-brand products amid an acute shortage of sunflower oil, a staple ingredient in products including frozen chips and breaded fish. The supermarket chain will start selling a limited range of own-label products from June which contain palm oil, after it banned the ingredient in 2018 amid a splash of publicity, supposedly taking a stand against tropical deforestation.

There are countless problems with sweeping decisions to swear off certain products, as Iceland did in 2018, not least the fact that you may have to embarrassingly go back on your promise later, as Iceland has just done. 90 per cent of palm oil exported to Europe is sustainable. Palm oil is more efficient than other products (such as sunflower oil, which Iceland switched to) meaning quitting palm oil is even worse for deforestation. Palm oil itself, despite meeting most of the world’s vegetable oil demand, is responsible for less than four per cent of global deforestation.

This episode has exposed Iceland’s hypocrisy. It claimed it would remove all own-brand products containing palm oil. In reality, it removed the branding, rather than the product itself. Iceland’s lack of transparency actively misled its customers. They boasted at the time that there was no palm oil in their products, which was not true.

In his latest policy change, Iceland’s managing director Richard Walker says the switch back to palm oil will only be a temporary measure. He claims that by using CSPO (certified sustainable palm oil) he will be able to minimise the impact on the environment. That suggests his view has changed since 2018, when Iceland was very clear about its opposition to any and all palm oil. His reasoning is not explained.

The question we should ask of Iceland, then, is whether they would now acknowledge that they should have moved to CSPO earlier if they knew it was an alternative, rather than making adverts criticising palm oil production. That is what they did in 2018, when they put their stamp on a Greenpeace video claiming that orangutans’ natural habitat was being destroyed by palm oil. The ad was then banned for being too political.

Palm oil is the tip of the iceberg of green virtue-signalling and hypocrisy, and Iceland is the perfect example. Walker’s pledge to remove palm oil from Iceland’s products is just one in a long line of unkept promises.

He also promised they would be plastic-free by 2023 but has since admitted that that will not be happening. Last year, Iceland was ranked as the worst supermarket in the UK on plastic, with Greenpeace (despite their apparent friendship with Iceland in 2018) slamming them as not doing enough to cut plastic use. Consumer group Which? ranked Iceland bottom too, this time for sustainability among supermarkets. Iceland was the only supermarket to fail to provide Which? with the relevant data for its own-brand plastic which is recyclable in kerbside collections.

Walker and Iceland would like us to believe they are leading the charge on social and environmental change. Despite that, Walker used a private helicopter to fly to different stores within the UK on 48 separate days, which he claims was necessary in order to be on the front line.

Companies, individuals and governments are so keen to be seen taking action on the environment that they forget about the consequences. They are so eager for their audiences to know how virtuous and tree-hugging they are that they don’t care if their decisions actually harm the planet. If we want to stop deforestation, halt climate change and generally care for our planet more, we must focus on the merits of our policy decisions rather than what others might think of them – the opposite of what Richard Walker does.