[Dave Birch] I’ve been reflecting on a very thought-provoking post on Linkdump. It concerns the attempts by some governments to stop ‘unlawful betting practices’ by demanding that the banks that execute the payments block them. Now, obviously, I don’t want to get into the moral or political aspects of this issue (which are not the concern of the Forum or this blog) but I do want to draw your attention to Linkdump’s perspective:

Well, if we go down this road and allow our governments to dictate which payments which customers may send/acccept (and instruct our banks to act accordingly), we may as well make the Treasuries our single national payment institution. This is what in my view will happen.

Interesting idea. And once we have smart national ID cards, is may become an irresistible attractor for government. If there was something like PayPal (say UKPal or Bank of England Pal) so that everyone in the U.K. had an automatic account of the form “idnumber@ukpal.co.uk”, then the overall cost of the national payment infrastructure would surely fall? Nevermind BACS or FPS, if I wanted to send my brother fifity quid then I’d securely log in to Bank of England Pal using my ID card and instruct an instant transfer. What’s not to like?

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Since I was at a privacy conference when I wrote the introductory paragraph, the relationship between payments, privacy and a healthy society was a topic of great interest. It seems to me to be one of those fascinating areas where there seems to be little grey: I can certainly remember attending events in the early days of the first e-cash cycle where opinions were absolutely polarised between the “Chaumian” view that e-cash must be anonymous because any other choice would be to collapse into tyranny and the Laura Norder view that allowing anonymity would be to invite the four horsemen of the infocalypse (drug dealers, terrorists, child pornographer and Nazis) round to tea. A jolly good read on the topic is still Kevin Kelly’s 1994 book “Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World”. This contains an excellent representation of the anonymity position and reflections on potential consequences.

It’s also an area where I think my own opinons have changed. I don’t want to re-ignite religious debates about electronic money, but I did use to think that anonymity for “cash-like” instruments was the natural state. Over time, however, I’ve started to think that since neither the general public, nor retailers, want it so there’s no real way forward. We have to rely on other privacy legislation and regulation if that’s what society wants. But customers want electronic money that they can get back if they lose and if a side effect is that the government can track their purchases, they seem happy to accept that.

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

1 comment

  1. Anonymity in money is not a natural state of affairs; it is simply a reflection of one particular form of money, being cash. Other forms such as bearer cheques were marked on the reverse with a non-anonymous trail.
    The natural state of affairs with money is that it is worth something, and that something is reliable. There is a balance between having a fully-named relationship with a bank and having a fully untraceable gold coin in the pocket. In the first, the bank or anyone bigger than the bank can steal it. In the second, anyone bigger than you can steal it.
    The way to think about DigiCash and Chaumian blinded concepts is that they were invented to solve a *privacy* problem, and not a *money* problem. For a while there, everyone was fooled, until people actually tried to use it, and then all the issues came out of the woodwork. Privacy is only one of the features of money, it isn’t the core or essence.

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