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Telegraph road

By Dave Birch posted Jan 1 2010 at 7:44 PM

[Dave Birch] A column by The Telegraph's economics editor Ed Conway before Christmas (vanity alert: I am quoted in said article) suggested that a cash-free society mightn't be a bad thing. This was naturally met by a torrent of outrage from The Telegraph's somewhat conservative leadership. Fair enough. But what I couldn't help but notice is that it didn't take many comments before this kind of thing cropped up:

Conway you are either nuts or part of the NWO propaganda machine.

[From I'm dreaming of a cashless Christmas - Telegraph]

NWO? NWO means "New World Order", which some of you may know from playing Steve Jackson Games best-ever tabletop game, Illuminati. But for those who do not...

The common theme in conspiracy theories about a New World Order is that a powerful and secretive elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an autonomous world government, which would replace sovereign nation-states and put an end to international power struggles

[From New World Order (conspiracy theory) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

An important element of the NWO illuminati (our motto: "someone you trust is one of us") master plan is the abolition of anonymity so that we can be tracked, traced and monitored by our hidden masters. Fortunately, former BBC man David Icke (who has exposed the Royal Family's extraterrestrial reptialian bloodline, a story oddly ignored by The Telegraph) has been able to warn us of this peril.

Here's a summary of what's in store for us, as written in 1998 by 'crazy conspiracy nut' David Icke: “The basic structure is designed around a world government which would take all the major decisions in the world. This would control a world central bank, currency (electronic, no cash), and army. All this would be underpinned by a microchipped population linked to a global computer.

[From Ciaran Gallagher blog: This economic collapse is part of their agenda!]

Oh dear. Can it really be true that those of us who think that electronic payments are more efficient than cash payments and are therefore better for society either illuminati puppet-masters or deluded sheeple?

It's not just technology guys like me who think that electronic payments are a good thing, so the NWO conspiracy must be quite widespread. Are the government of, say, Thailand, mere pawns in an NWO game that we cannot see?

The Bank of Thailand has launched a payment systems roadmap for 2010 that focuses mainly on promoting electronic payments to encourage the development of a cashless society.

[From Central bank wants cashless society - Nationmultimedia.com]

I wouldn't have thought so. Thailand wants to get rid of cash to reduce the total social cost of payments, which is why I want to get rid of it too. While attempts to get rid of cash in the name of efficiency are widespread, I am forced to admit that some of them rather do feed the NWO machine!

Pupils can choose between biometric finger scan, photo recognition or a simple pin number in order to recognise children at the counter so their account can be debited.

[From New cashless system for two East Ayrshire schools | Scotland | STV News]

Note that this system is to buy a meal at school, not to get into a nuclear missile launch site, but then this application isn't about security. Biometrics in the mass market are about convenience, not security. And the truth is that while replacing cash with fingerprinting may seem creepy (and is almost certainly not the right way to re-implement money for the 21st century), people rather like it on the whole! They like not having to remember their card and so on. But back to global plans for world domination. Why would a country decide to make cashlessness a national goal, assuming that it isn't part of an NWO takeover? Singapore is a case study we've used at the Forum before and because of Consult Hyperion's work in Singapore I've had plenty of opportunities to explore the dynamics. Once again, the prime motivator is economic efficiency and cutting the deadweight loss to the economy of cash handling and management. Yet look at how hard it has been to move towards cashlessness in a small, well-organised, technologically sophisticated place like Singapore.

In a small country like Singapore, this continuing reliance on cash is surprising. Contrast it with countries such as New Zealand, where a consumer can do almost entirely without cash. Payments for taxis, morning coffee, lunch at a food court, purchases made at a newsstand, supermarkets and at most other locations can usually be made by card... Once again, the move forward to a cashless society in Singapore has taken a step backward towards cash.

[From TODAYonline]

Hopefully that will be changing this year as the new common purse scheme, present on both NETS and EZ-Link cards, and hopefully some phones as well, becomes more widely used beyond transport. Which may also be a useful lesson for us. I've written a few times that transport has turned out to be disproportionately important in the move toward contactless cash replacement and while London's Oyster card is not going to be used in shops, that doesn't mean that other scheme mightn't use transport a sa vector. I was reminded of this because I bumped into Forum friend Adam Smith from sQuid a couple of weeks ago.

Bolton council, in collaboration with sQuid, the smartcard provider, has introduced contactless payment terminals to the town’s leisure centres, library and transport network. The cards are also accepted by local shops and businesses, including chippies and newsagents. This makes the city one of the first in the UK, outside London, to embrace cashless payment technology for its transport and council facilities.

[From Can you trust wave-and-go cash cards? - Times Online]

I will make a point of visiting Bolton in 2010 to see how this is going, and report back.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]


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Apple has introduced a very helpful tool especially for those users who doesnt understand english.

"I wonder how true this really is."

My comment was based on intuition, and at least anecdotally supported by the fact that, as far as I know, there has been no significant deployment of anonymous digital cash, but plenty of deployments of privacy invading ones (mainly special-purpose schemes, like in the transport sector).

I think a significant argument for following this course of action is "what happens if the crypto fails". DigiCash and friends were designed by very smart people, but they depend on a whole lot of mathematics which are not well understood by anyone.

Anonymous digital cash systems are fragile, and if something important fails people could starting printing their own money and the whole scheme collapses. If, on the other hand, every payment is tracked, then the system can recover from very serious problems by reconciling shadow accounts and punishing offenders.

Consider the Oystercard debacle. The Mifare Classic crypto on the cards has now been so thoroughly broken it might as well not be there. Still, the effective security of the system is adequate because a cloned card could be caught sufficiently rapidly to make its value negligible.

"Perhaps the most difficult option is the kind of conditional anonymity or pseudonymity"

I agree. To do this you need to build a system which is sufficiently secure to protect against criminals, but sufficiently broken to allow law enforcement to violate the core security properties. Here's an example of a proposal which turned out to meet neither requirement (in the closely related field of anonymous communications):

"Given that it's harder to build an anonymous digital cash system, rather than a privacy invading one"

I wonder how true this really is. It seems to me that the easy options are complete anonymity (eg, DigiCash) or complete lack of anonymity. Perhaps the most difficult option is the kind of conditional anonymity or pseudonymity that is the practical solution so (as an example, I'm not saying this should be the requirement) that a transaction remains private unless there's a court order of some kind.

It's unfortunate that people conflate digital cash and privacy invasion. The technology behind anonymous digital cash is so old that the original patents have expired, and the more recent proposals solve the efficiency problems.

I suppose what people are worried about is that if digital cash were introduced, governments would push for the introduction of surveillance capabilities. While the NWO conspiracy theory is exactly that, it is true that the UK government has a tendency to hoard data (see for example the Rowntree Trust Database State report).

Given that it's harder to build an anonymous digital cash system, rather than a privacy invading one, it would not surprise me if parts of the government will be pushing for data retention in any new system.

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