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Can we protect privacy in a cashless society?

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03.06.2019

Canada leads the world in the transition to digitized commerce. With more than two credit cards per capita, the cashless economy is approaching swiftly.

The move has been largely voluntary, driven by convenience, and half of Canadians favour dispensing with notes and coins altogether. With cash-only businesses declining to near non-existence, what's the problem?

As stated by Jerry Brito of Coin Center, "a cashless society is a surveillance economy." Bank-mediated transactions enable unprecedented monitoring and the "death of cash means the birth of perfect financial control." For example, China's Social Credit System punishes behaviour the regime deems unfavourable, aided by monitoring via payment platforms.

Privacy is crucial to a liberal society. Even the most prominent advocate for ridding economies of large note denominations, Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff, acknowledges "we need cash for privacy." His concerns, shared in The Curse of Cash (2017), are terrorism, tax evasion and constrained monetary policy.

Canadian legislators have acknowledged the value of privacy in passing two federal laws: the Privacy Act and Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). Respectively, they govern how the federal government and private businesses handle personal information.

Yet these laws have proved blunt instruments in the face of........

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