‘Authoritarian surveillance tool’

‘Authoritarian surveillance tool’: Police scan faces of London Xmas shoppers in controversial trial

London’s Metropolitan Police have began testing facial recognition technology on the capital’s Christmas shoppers, in a move that was attacked by a civil liberties campaigner as an “authoritarian surveillance tool.”

The trial – which is set to take place over December 17-18 in Soho, Piccadilly Circus, and Leicester Square – is the seventh of it’s type in London since 2016. Authorities have announced that there are three more tests yet to be scheduled.

Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “The police’s use of this authoritarian surveillance tool in total absence of a legal or democratic basis is alarming.” Warning that the technology “is a form of mass surveillance that, if allowed to continue, will turn members of the public into walking ID card.”

“As with all mass surveillance tools, it is the general public who suffer more than criminals. The fact that it has been utterly useless so far shows what a terrible waste of police time and public money it is. It is well overdue that police drop this dangerous and lawless technology.”

The Met stated that the technology “will be used overtly with a clear uniformed presence and information leaflets will be disseminated to the public.”

Adding that anyone who declines to be scanned “will not be viewed as suspicious by police officers.”

But new police figures, that Big Brother Watch has obtained, show that since May, 100 percent of the Met’s facial recognition matches have incorrectly linked innocent people to those on police watch lists.

Researchers at Cardiff University revealed that the cameras have the capability to recognize as many as 300 faces a second – 18,000 in a minute.

London police are pushing ahead with the trials, despite Greater Manchester Police suspending their own six-month deployment of the cameras that were scanning shoppers at one of the city’s main shopping centers. The Surveillance Camera Commissioner warned that the use of the cameras was disproportionate, “compared to the scale and size of the processing of all people passing a camera, the group they might hope to identify was minuscule.”

.

Amazon’s Facial Recognition

Amazon’s powerful new facial recognition technology automates mass
government surveillance and threatens individual freedom, according to
the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The online retail giant has begun selling the big brother-like
technology, which it calls “Rekognition,” to law enforcement and local
government authorities across the United States.

The new service can identify, track and analyze people in real time,
recognizing up to 100 people in a single image. The information it
collects can then be scanned against databases featuring tens of
millions of people, the ACLU said.

“People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by
the government. By automating mass surveillance, facial recognition
systems like Rekognition threaten this freedom,” the ACLU said.

Amazon has been marketing Rekognition for government surveillance
purposes, boasting that the technology provides an “easy and accurate”
way to monitor people and that it can be used to identify “people of
interest” to law enforcement.

But the ACLU is worried about who exactly those people of interest might
be. For instance, the civil liberties group said, “undocumented
immigrants or Black activists” could be seen as “fair game” for
Rekognition surveillance.

“Amazon’s Rekognition raises profound civil liberties and civil rights
concerns,” the ACLU said.

The city of Orlando, Florida, as well as the Washington County Sheriff’s
Office in Oregon, are among Amazon’s Rekognition customers. The ACLU
said that Washington County had built a database of 300,000 mugshot
photos to use in coordination with Rekognition software. The county even
signed a non-disclosure agreement created by Amazon. The NDA was later
cited by the county to “justify withholding documents” in response
public records requests, the ACLU said.

Rekognition technology is now operating across Orlando, with footage
rolling in from “cameras all over the city” — and Orlando’s police chief
has praised the “first-of-its-kind public-private partnership” with Amazon.

Promotional materials for Rekognition even recommend that law
enforcement use the technology to identify individuals from police body
cameras, but Amazon removed any mention of police body cameras after the
ACLU raised concerns.

“That appears to be the extent of its response to our concerns; this and
other profoundly troubling surveillance practices are still permissible
under the company’s policies,” the ACLU said.

Using police body cameras as facial recognition devices would transform
police into surveillance machines aimed at the public, it said.

“Police would be able to determine who attends protests. ICE could seek
to continuously monitor immigrants as they embark on new lives. Cities
might routinely track their own residents, whether they have reason to
suspect criminal activity or not,” the civil liberties group explained.

The ACLU asked both Washington County and Orlando for records showing
that the public had been consulted before the rollout of the technology,
but no records were produced. In fact, Washington County began using
Rekognition technology “even as employees raised questions internally.”

In one email highlighted by the ACLU, a Washington County employee
expressed concern that using the technology could be seen as the
government “getting in bed with big data” — which seems to be exactly
what has happened.

The ACLU, along with other concerned organizations, sent a letter to
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos demanding that his company stop selling the
technology to the government. The letter claims that the technology is
“primed for abuse” in government hands and poses a “grave threat” to
communities which are already unfairly targeted by law enforcement.

“Once powerful surveillance systems like these are built and deployed,
the harm will be extremely difficult to undo,” the ACLU said.

But despite civil rights concerns, the use of Rekognition looks set to
spread. Law enforcement in California and Arizona have already shown an
interest in using the technology — and it is difficult to imagine that
Bezos would heed the ACLU’s warnings.

The above article first appeared in RT

Digital IDs

Digital IDs should be introduced to end online anonymity and stop
internet ‘mob rule’ says security minister

* Digital IDs should be introduced to stop mob rule online, Ben Wallace
has said
* The security minister added abuse online can be cut off by verifying
identity
* At the G7 summit this week, Theresa May highlighted the growth of
cyber bullying and threats of violence against women online
By Bridie Pearson-Jones

Digital IDs should be introduced to stop mob rule and end anonymity
online, the security minister has said.

Ben Wallace, the MP for Wyre and Preston North and Minister of State for
Security and Economic Crime, said bullying and grooming takes place on
social media because people believe they can’t be identified.

He added that websites should be able to identify people online in the
same way that banks do.

‘It is mob rule on the internet. You shouldn’t be able to hide behind
anonymity as much as you can now… If we’re going to make the internet
safer, and cut out the abuse, we’re going to have to do something more
about some form of digital identification’ the former soldier told the
Times.

His comments come as the number of online child sex abuse cases referred
to the Met have increased by 700 percent in the last four years.

At the G7 summit this week, Theresa May highlighted the growth of cyber
bullying and threats of violence against women online.

Speaking in Quebec, the Prime Minister said: ‘We know that technology
plays a crucial part in advancing gender equality and empowering women
and girls, but these benefits are being undermined by vile forms of
online violence, abuse and harassment.

‘What is illegal offline is illegal online and I am calling on world
leaders to take serious action to deal with this, just like we are doing
in the UK with our commitment to legislate on online harms such as
cyber-stalking and harassment.’

The system may be based on existing Verify systems the government use or
on the age-verification procedure that will soon be needed to access
online pornography.

However, the latter had been delayed over concerns of how it will work.

On the HMRC website users have to take identity documents such as a
passport or driver’s license to the Post Office or another partner
organization to verify their identity.

The number of online child sex abuse cases referred to the Met have
increased by 700 percent in the last four years (stock image)

Experts are divided on the use of forced-IDs online.

Alan Woodward, of the University, of Surrey, told the Times: ‘I don’t
think it’s technically workable. For those who persist in the vilest
online behavior, there are so many ways to mask their real identities.’

Anthony Glees, of the University of Buckingham, said: ‘This is do-able
and it should be done. Anonymity on the web is a threat to our national
security of the first order. Legal compulsion will be necessary and we
should go for it.’
..

Facebook a Surveillance Company

Snowden: Facebook a ‘surveillance company’ that collects and sells user data
– Reuters

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted Saturday that Facebook is a
“surveillance company” that sells its users’ personal details, weighing
in on a scandal involving a private firm that harvested data from the
social media giant.

“Businesses that make money by collecting and selling detailed records
of private lives were once plainly described as ‘surveillance
companies,'” wrote the former National Security Agency contractor.
“Their rebranding as ‘social media’ is the most successful deception
since the Department of War became the Department of Defense.” – Edward
Snowden

Snowden’s sobering observation, which was retweeted more than 30,000
times, comes amid public outcry over the revelation that Cambridge
Analytica, a private data analytics firm that worked with President
Donald Trump’s election team, had harvested personal information of more
than 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge.

Facebook suspended Cambridge Analytica’s access to the platform last
week, claiming that the company and two individuals who had helped
collect the massive data set had misled the social media giant.

“In light of new reports that the data was not destroyed, we are
suspending these three parties from Facebook, pending further
information,” the company said. “We will take whatever steps are
required to see that the data in question is deleted once and for all —
and take action against all offending parties.”

Commenting on a New York Times report about the unprecedented data
breach, Snowden said it was Facebook, not Cambridge Analytica, that
should be held responsible.

“Facebook makes their money by exploiting and selling intimate details
about the private lives of millions, far beyond the scant details you
voluntarily post. They are not victims. They are accomplices,” he wrote
on Twitter.

Facebook insists that Cambridge Analytica’s harvesting methods did not
constitute a formal data breach, because users technically consented –
via the website’s labyrinthine privacy settings – to having their data
mined.
..

Thailand Cybersecurity Law

A proposed cybersecurity law in Thailand would give a new government
agency sweeping powers to spy on internet traffic, order the removal of
content, or even seize computers without judicial oversight, alarming
businesses and activists.

Civil liberties advocates, internet companies and business groups are
protesting the planned legislation, saying it sacrifices privacy and the
rule of law, according to interviews and documents reviewed by Reuters.

The legislation, likely to gain approval by year-end, is the latest in a
wave of new laws in major Asian countries that aim to assert government
control over the internet, further undermining the Western ideal of a
global network that transcends national borders.

It would grant a newly created National Cybersecurity Committee (NCSC)
the authority to access the computers of individuals or private
companies, make copies of information, and enter private property
without court orders. Criminal penalties would be imposed for those who
do not comply.

The NCSC could also summon businesses or individuals for interrogation
and force them to hand over information belonging to other parties.

“Cybersecurity policy should be respective of privacy and rule of law,”
the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council said in letter to the Thai government
that was not released publicly but was obtained by Reuters. “Enforcing
cyberspace cannot come at the cost of sacrificing privacy, civil
liberties, and rule of law.”

The letter also warned requirements such as forcing companies to alert
the agency of cyber threats or even anticipated ones would impose “a
very heavy burden” on businesses and should be removed.

Tech giants Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon are all members of the
council.

The Singapore-based industry group Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), which
represents the four U.S. giants and seven other major internet
companies, also warned the law might drive businesses out of Thailand.

The AIC, in a public statement, cited concerns about government
surveillance and criminal liability for defying NCSC orders, among other
issues.

Somsak Khaosuwan, Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Digital
Economy, which is in charge of the law, told Reuters the government is
now discussing revisions of the draft and would take the concerns into
account.

“The law will conform to international standards… The team working on
the law will certainly listen to the issues that have been raised,”
Somsak said. “There is nothing scary about it,” he added, declining to
elaborate on possible revisions.

The draft law does not contain specific provisions on hot-button issues
such as “fake news” or requirements that international tech and social
media firms store data locally. Internet companies are currently
battling governments over such issues in countries including India,
Vietnam and Indonesia.

But the Thai law would grant the new NCSC “sweeping powers, holding a
monopoly on all things cyber in the country… without being subject to
check and balance, control, or regulation,” said Sutee Tuvirat, a
cybersecurity expert with Thailand’s Information Security Association.
“If anyone is more powerful than the Prime Minister, this is it.”

Censorship Fears

Civil rights advocates worry Thailand’s military junta, which actively
censors the internet and often casts criticism of the government as a
threat to national security, will use the new law to further codify its
censorship regime.

The NCSC would be empowered to order removal of “cyber threats” and
override other laws when they are in conflict. The latest draft of
Thailand’s new Data Protection Law, also expected to be approved this
year, correspondingly says it does not apply to “national security
agencies,” including the NCSC.

Arthit Suriyawongkul, a civil rights advocate with the Thai Netizen
Network, told Reuters the law could readily facilitate censorship. “The
law doesn’t categorize data, which may include online content, and does
not include protection measures,” he said.

In a joint statement seen by Reuters, the Telecommunications Association
of Thailand and the Thai Internet Service Provider Association also said
they were concerned about the government’s efforts to “regulate content”.

Data from internet companies shows Thai government requests to take down
content or turn over information have ramped up in recent years. A law
prohibiting criticism of the monarchy has often been the basis for such
requests.

Following the death of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2016, the
government threatened to prosecute Facebook in Thailand if it didn’t
comply with content restriction requests.

In the first half of 2018, Facebook restricted 285 pieces of content,
almost all of which were alleged to violate local lèse-majesté laws,
according to the company’s latest transparency report released on
Friday. Facebook restricted 365 pieces of content last year, 10 times
the amount in 2014. It also handed over user data to the Thai government
for the first time in 2017.

From mid-2014 to the end of 2017, the military government has made 386
requests to Google to remove 9,986 items, almost all of which were
identified as government criticism, according to Google’s transparency
report.

Google agreed to remove content named in 93 percent of the requests last
year, up from 57 percent in late 2014.

Facebook declined to comment. It has previously said its general
guidelines on receiving government requests to remove content are to
determine whether the material violates local laws before restricting
access.

Google declined to comment.

– Reuters
..

Cashless Society

Sweden is rapidly turning into a cashless society, which seems like the
utopian dream of many a government figure.

What could possibly go wrong from the government’s point of view? Isn’t
it ideal that they could soon digitally control every single person in
the country?

Actually, quite a few things are going wrong. So much so that even
members of the government are expressing concern.

Sweden is the most cashless society in the world

The change is happening fast in the European country.

“No cash accepted” signs are becoming an increasingly common sight in
shops and eateries across Sweden as payments go digital and mobile…

Sweden is widely regarded as the most cashless society on the planet.
Most of the country’s bank branches have stopped handling cash; many
shops, museums and restaurants now only accept plastic or mobile payments

Last year, the amount of cash in circulation in Sweden dropped to the
lowest level since 1990 and is more than 40 per cent below its 2007
peak. The declines in 2016 and 2017 were the biggest on record

An annual survey by Insight Intelligence released last month found that
only 25 per cent of Swedes paid in cash at least once a week in 2017,
down from 63 per cent just four years ago. A full 36 per cent never use
cash, or just pay with it once or twice a year. (source)

Cash is used so infrequently that the government of the country has
demonstrated concern. And this isn’t just in the big cities. A source in
rural Sweden tells me that even in his remote area, the push to go
cashless is omnipresent.

What could possibly go wrong?

The folks of Sweden have so little use for cash that it’s predicted many
stores will no longer even accept it by 2025. And according to an
article in the Financial Post, the government is beginning to have
second thoughts.

The government is recalculating the societal costs of a cash-free future.

The financial authorities, who once embraced the trend, are asking banks
to keep peddling notes and coins until the government can figure out
what going cash-free means for young and old consumers. The central
bank, which predicts cash may fade from Sweden, is testing a digital
currency — an e-krona — to keep firm control of the money supply.
Lawmakers are exploring the fate of online payments and bank accounts if
an electrical grid fails or servers are thwarted by power failures,
hackers or even war. (source)

And the potential of a down-grid situation isn’t the only problem. Older
Swedes and immigrants who aren’t really involved in the digital society
could have great difficulty making transactions.

Consumer groups say the shift leaves many retirees — a third of all
Swedes are 55 or older — as well as some immigrants and people with
disabilities at a disadvantage. They cannot easily gain access to
electronic means for some goods and transactions, and rely on banks and
their customer service. (source)

We all know some folks who eschew online banking and never use a debit
card. Many of these people are senior citizens who aren’t ready to learn
a new technology. As well, there’s a cost involved in taking part in a
technological economy: smartphones, internet service, and computers are
simply not a part of the lifestyle of many folks.

One group, the Swedish National Pensioners Organization, is attacking
this issue by teaching classes to get them more comfortable with digital
transactions.

“We have around 1 million people who aren’t comfortable using the
computer, iPads or iPhones for banking,” said Christina Tallberg, 75,
the group’s national president. “We aren’t against the digital movement,
but we think it’s going a bit too fast.”

The organization has been raising money to teach retirees how to pay
electronically, but, paradoxically, that good effort has been tripped up
by an abundance of cash. When collections for training are taken in
rural areas — and the seniors donate in cash — the pensioner in charge
must drive miles to find a bank that will actually take the money,
Tallberg said. About half of Sweden’s 1,400 bank branches no longer
accept cash deposits.

“It’s more or less impossible, because the banks refuse to take cash,”
she said. (source)

Just to emphasize “the banks refuse to take cash.” THE BANKS.

The reason given for the refusal to accept cash is that they wish to
prevent recurrences of the violent robberies that took place in the
early 2000s.

And of course, there’s concern of government control.

It seems rather ironic that it’s the government pointing out the
possibility of trouble with government control in a cashless society,
especially since they’re considering rolling out a new digital currency
called the e-krona.

The central bank has plans to roll out a pilot version next year of a
new type of Riksbank money — the digital krona, or e-krona — that could
replace physical cash or at least help calm the current cash conundrum.
An e-krona would mean that the functions of a currency backed by the
state would remain, even in an all-digital world that is fast approaching.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund,
noted last week that several central banks were “seriously considering”
digital currencies. (source)

Just imagine:

If the government were in charge of the digital currency, the amount of
control they’d have would be breathtaking. Could they simply make your
digital currency invalid if you owed taxes or were suspected of a crime?
Could they wipe out everyone’s online accounts in the event of some kind
of bank holiday or economic collapse?

If the grid went down in a long-term way, all you’d saved would be lost
forever. A short power outage would cripple communities. Every single
purchase you make would leave a digital footprint, and huge amounts of
personal data could be mined from it. And what about the possibility of
online bank robberies carried out by hackers?

The list of things that could go wrong is infinite.

And of course, it all goes back to microchips.

Out of all the nations in the Western world, it seems that Sweden is the
most enthusiastic about the embedding of microchips into humans “for
convenience” purposes.

Recently, Adam Palmer wrote about how thousands of Swedes were
voluntarily getting the chip for their own convenience.

The microchip “bypasses the need for cash, tickets, access cards, and
even social media,” according to the Daily Mail

In June, 2017, SJ Rail, the Swedish train operator, announced that 100
people were using microchips for train rides, obviously indicating that
the rail system was already set up to handle the payment system before
anyone was ever microchipped.

For this system, passengers with a microchip in their hand have their
ticket loaded directly onto the device and the train conductor can read
the chip with a smartphone to confirm payment.

The Daily Mail paints the chip in a positive light, recounting the
opinion of Szilvia Varszegi, 28, who said the chip “basically solves my
problems.” The “problems” Ms. Varszegi is referring to is apparently the
“problem” of manually purchasing a ticket or engaging in a phone-based
transaction. (source)

Well, thank goodness poor Ms. Varszegi’s horrible burden has been lightened.

Many readers expressed dismay, shock, and revulsion at the very idea of
having a chip implanted in their bodies, and I’m with you. But we’re
witnessing something important here. We’re watching an alarming glimpse
at the future.

The endgame of complete control truly seems to be in sight as more and
more Swedes go cashless.

By Daisy Luther
..

Investment Palladium not Bitcoin

The most profitable investment this year was palladium, according to
experts from FinExpertiza consulting. Meanwhile, the world’s most
popular cryptocurrency bitcoin was named the most disastrous investment
of 2018.

FinExpertiza’s research involved 14 investment instruments and 300,000
rubles ($4,330) as the basis sum, according to Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

The study found that bitcoin investors would have lost more than 213,000
rubles ($3,000) or 71.2 percent of the investment this year.

The most profitable investment of the outgoing year, according to
FinExpertiza analysis, was palladium. The price of the precious metal
has been hitting record highs lately, making it the best performer among
major metals. With the 300,000 rubles invested, purchasers would have
increased their capital by 30,000 rubles ($433), or 10.2 percent, by the
end of 2018.

“And if we look in retrospect, for example of two years, we will see
that palladium, in general, has become the only metal with a positive
return,” Nina Kozlova, general director of FinExpertiza, was cited as
saying by the newspaper.

Once hailed as the future of money, bitcoin has lost more than 80
percent of its value since last year’s all-time high of $20,000.

Currently trading below $3,700, the cryptocurrency is likely to extend
its losses to below $3,000, experts say.

Worth just a fraction of a penny in 2010, bitcoin has been hitting the
headlines and attracting attention from everyone, including Warren
Buffet, Bill Gates, and Jamie Dimon.

Bitcoin has divided opinion and has been called everything from a scam
to the future of money.

The virtual currency has been declared dead 336 times now by
99bitcoinscom, a website keeping track of the crypto.

Surveillance

The following essay originally appeared in McSweeney’s issue #54: “The End of Trust.”

How Surveillance Inhibits Freedom of Expression

In my book Data and Goliath, I write about the value of privacy. I talk
about how it is essential for political liberty and justice, and for
commercial fairness and equality. I talk about how it increases personal
freedom and individual autonomy, and how the lack of it makes us all
less secure. But this is probably the most important argument as to why
society as a whole must protect privacy: it allows society to progress.

We know that surveillance has a chilling effect on freedom. People
change their behavior when they live their lives under surveillance.
They are less likely to speak freely and act individually. They
self-censor. They become conformist. This is obviously true for
government surveillance, but is true for corporate surveillance as well.
We simply aren’t as willing to be our individual selves when others are
watching.

Let’s take an example: hearing that parents and children are being
separated as they cross the US border, you want to learn more. You visit
the website of an international immigrants’ rights group, a fact that is
available to the government through mass Internet surveillance. You sign
up for the group’s mailing list, another fact that is potentially
available to the government. The group then calls or e-mails to invite
you to a local meeting. Same. Your license plates can be collected as
you drive to the meeting;

your face can be scanned and identified as you walk into and out of the
meeting. If, instead of visiting the website, you visit the group’s
Facebook page, Facebook knows that you did and that feeds into its
profile of you, available to advertisers and political activists alike.
Ditto if you like their page, share a link with your friends, or just
post about the issue.

Maybe you are an immigrant yourself, documented or not. Or maybe some of
your family is. Or maybe you have friends or coworkers who are. How
likely are you to get involved if you know that your interest and
concern can be gathered and used by government and corporate actors?
What if the issue you are interested in is pro- or anti-gun control,
anti-police violence or in support of the police? Does that make a
difference?

Maybe the issue doesn’t matter, and you would never be afraid to be
identified and tracked based on your political or social interests. But
even if you are so fearless, you probably know someone who has more to
lose, and thus more to fear, from their personal, sexual, or political
beliefs being exposed.

This isn’t just hypothetical. In the months and years after the 9/11
terrorist attacks, many of us censored what we spoke about on social
media or what we searched on the Internet. We know from a 2013 PEN study
that writers in the United States self-censored their browsing habits
out of fear the government was watching. And this isn’t exclusively an
American event; Internet self-censorship is prevalent across the globe,
China being a prime example.

Ultimately, this fear stagnates society in two ways. The first is that
the presence of surveillance means society cannot experiment with new
things without fear of reprisal, and that means those experiments — if
found to be inoffensive or even essential to society — cannot slowly
become commonplace, moral, and then legal. If surveillance nips that
process in the bud, change never happens. All social progress — from
ending slavery to fighting for women’s rights — began as ideas that
were, quite literally, dangerous to assert. Yet without the ability to
safely develop, discuss, and eventually act on those assertions, our
society would not have been able to further its democratic values in the
way that it has.

Consider the decades-long fight for gay rights around the world. Within
our lifetimes we have made enormous strides to combat homophobia and
increase acceptance of queer folks’ right to marry. Queer relationships
slowly progressed from being viewed as immoral and illegal, to being
viewed as somewhat moral and tolerated, to finally being accepted as
moral and legal.

In the end, it was the public nature of those activities that eventually
slayed the bigoted beast, but the ability to act in private was
essential in the beginning for the early experimentation, community
building, and organizing.

Marijuana legalization is going through the same process: it’s currently
sitting between somewhat moral, and — depending on the state or country
in question — tolerated and legal. But, again, for this to have
happened, someone decades ago had to try pot and realize that it wasn’t
really harmful, either to themselves or to those around them. Then it
had to become a counterculture, and finally a social and political
movement. If pervasive surveillance meant that those early pot smokers
would have been arrested for doing something illegal, the movement would
have been squashed before inception. Of course the story is more
complicated than that, but the ability for members of society to
privately smoke weed was essential for putting it on the path to
legalization.

We don’t yet know which subversive ideas and illegal acts of today will
become political causes and positive social change tomorrow, but they’re
around. And they require privacy to germinate. Take away that privacy,
and we’ll have a much harder time breaking down our inherited moral
assumptions.

The second way surveillance hurts our democratic values is that it
encourages society to make more things illegal. Consider the things you
do — the different things each of us does — that portions of society
find immoral. Not just recreational drugs and gay sex, but gambling,
dancing, public displays of affection. All of us do things that are
deemed immoral by some groups, but are not illegal because they don’t
harm anyone. But it’s important that these things can be done out of the
disapproving gaze of those who would otherwise rally against such practices.

If there is no privacy, there will be pressure to change. Some people
will recognize that their morality isn’t necessarily the morality of
everyone — and that that’s okay. But others will start demanding
legislative change, or using less legal and more violent means, to force
others to match their idea of morality.

It’s easy to imagine the more conservative (in the small-c sense, not in
the sense of the named political party) among us getting enough power to
make illegal what they would otherwise be forced to witness. In this
way, privacy helps protect the rights of the minority from the tyranny
of the majority.

This is how we got Prohibition in the 1920s, and if we had had today’s
surveillance capabilities in the 1920s, it would have been far more
effectively enforced. Recipes for making your own spirits would have
been much harder to distribute. Speakeasies would have been impossible
to keep secret. The criminal trade in illegal alcohol would also have
been more effectively suppressed. There would have been less discussion
about the harms of Prohibition, less “what if we didn’t?” thinking.
Political organizing might have been difficult. In that world, the law
might have stuck to this day.

China serves as a cautionary tale. The country has long been a world
leader in the ubiquitous
surveillance of its citizens, with the goal not of crime prevention but
of social control. They are about to further enhance their system,
giving every citizen a “social credit” rating. The details are yet
unclear, but the general concept is that people will be rated based on
their activities, both online and off. Their political comments, their
friends and associates, and everything else will be assessed and scored.
Those who are conforming, obedient, and apolitical will be given high
scores. People without those scores will be denied privileges like
access to certain schools and foreign travel. If the program is half as
far-reaching as early reports indicate, the subsequent pressure to
conform will be enormous.

This social surveillance system is precisely the sort of surveillance
designed to maintain the status quo.

For social norms to change, people need to deviate from these inherited
norms. People need the space to try alternate ways of living without
risking arrest or social ostracization. People need to be able to read
critiques of those norms without anyone’s knowledge, discuss them
without their opinions being recorded, and write about their experiences
without their names attached to their words. People need to be able to
do things that others find distasteful, or even immoral. The minority
needs protection from the tyranny of the majority.

Privacy makes all of this possible. Privacy encourages social progress
by giving the few room to experiment free from the watchful eye of the
many. Even if you are not personally chilled by ubiquitous surveillance,
the society you live in is, and the personal costs are unequivocal.

No Cash Accepted

“Your cash is not wanted here”, a growing number of retailers and
restaurants throughout the US and UK are telling customers. But are
reasons being given by companies for the new “cashless” approach —
speed, efficiency, and the safety of store employees — valid enough to
require something as utterly and downright un American as rejecting cash?

We think not, and unfortunately the trend of “cash not welcome here”
establishments is growing, to the point that lawmakers are beginning to
take note and could introduce legislation barring the practice, as
Massachusetts has done already, and as the New Jersey State House could
be set to do next. According to a Federal Reserve survey conducted in
2017 cited in The Wall Street Journal, cash represented 30% of all
transactions in America, with 55% of those being under $10.

Regardless of Americans’ longtime preference for plastic in most
transactions, many of which take place online, research by the Federal
Reserve found that cash is still king in terms of Americans’ daily lives
and usage, and as the study concluded further, this remains true across
all income levels:

Not only is cash used frequently for small value and in-person
purchases, it is also used by a wide array of consumers. The data on
cash use by household income provides two main insights. First,
consumers make—on average—14 cash transactions per month, regardless of
household income. It is also noteworthy that cash was the most, or
second most, used payment instrument regardless of household income,
indicating that its value to consumers as a payment instrument was not
limited to lower income households that may be less likely to have
access to an account at a financial institution.

But this reality is now pushing up against the new trend of the cashless
restaurant, bar and retailer, and creating awkward and frustrating
situations for consumers, as a new Wall Street Journal piece chronicles.
In one scenario, a customer had to intervene on another’s behalf and
play personal bank for a “card only” salon, even though there was plenty
of cash on hand offered by the woman who couldn’t pay. Ironically, as
the WSJ story notes, this created an “emergency”:

Sam Schreiber was mid-shampoo at a Drybar blow-dry salon in Los Angeles
when someone from the front deskapproached her stylist with an
emergency: a woman was trying to pay for her blow-out with cash.

“There was this beat of silence,” says Ms. Schreiber, 33 years old. “She
literally brought $40.”

More and more businesses like Drybar don’t want your money—the paper
kind at least. It’s making things awkward for those who come ill
prepared. After all, you can’t give back a hairdo, an already dressed
salad or the two beers you already drank.

And in another situation where someone simply wanted to order a salad,
but was refused upon presenting $20 cash, the rejected customer slammed
the policy that created the whole awkward situation as elitist. The
customer recounted for the WSJ:

Jaclyn Benton, 30, visited a Sweetgreen near her office in Reston, Va.,
last summer with $20 cash, but no credit or debit card because she had
forgotten her wallet at home. When her order was ready and she went to
pay, the cashier explained that the restaurant doesn’t take bills.

“It’s almost like when your credit card gets declined for silly
reasons,” says Ms. Benton, who works as an event planner. “It makes you
feel like you can’t afford it even though I had the money right there.”

Ms. Benton has no plans to go back: “It feels very elitist,” she says.

A Sweetgreen spokeswoman said its decision makes its team members safer
amid the risk of robbery and improves the cleanliness and efficiency of
the restaurants.

Another anecdote involved a 51-year old women left feeling humiliated at
a Manhattan restaurant. Though the eatery proudly advertises that its
food comes from “from farmers and partners as close to home as
possible,” it apparently rejects your local cash.

Again, another customer had to intervene as essentially an impromptu
bank after a deeply “awkward” situation, per the WSJ:

“We went into one of those stores where they sell Lotto tickets and I
got change and I gave her the money,” says Ms. Linbourne, who lives in
Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., and works for a construction-management
company. “I was so embarrassed.”

A Dig Inn spokeswoman responded by saying the credit/debit card only
policy “makes for a faster experience for customers and for employees,
who don’t have to count cash or make runs to the bank.” Though we should
note this only puts the burden on the customers themselves, as their
“options” are then extremely limited.

And as the WSJ report points out, consider that on every US bill the
following words appear: “This note is legal tender for all debts, public
and private.” However, currently there’s no federal law stipulating that
business have to accept cash when offered, though likely no body of
lawmakers prior to the modern advent of payment by plastic could have
ever envisioned such a dilemma as cash being banned by stores.

But this is getting noticed by local and state governments: “New York
City Councilman Ritchie Torres of the Bronx recently proposed
legislation that would prohibit retailers and restaurants from refusing
cash, and city council members in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia
have proposed similar legislation,” according to the WSJ. Councilman
Torres said “I refuse to patronize businesses that reject cash payments,
even though I primarily use debit or credit.” He explained the practice
is “discriminatory against the undocumented, people without bank
accounts and credit cards, and those who wish to have their transactions
be more private” — all of which can create an unnecessary and
“humiliating situation.”

Increasingly, it creates situations where a patron simply can’t complete
the transaction or make a purchase. This could most impact the young and
lower income homes which are limited in terms of local bank and
checking/debit card account access:

Another demographic that often only has cash? Minors. Connie Young, who
lives in Walnut Creek, Calif., says that in February, her 17-year-old
son got excited when he learned a book he wanted was in stock at the
local Amazon Books.

But her son returned home empty handed. When he told her the store
didn’t take cash, she assumed there must have been a power outage and
that the register was down, before he explained it was the policy. “I
laughed. I was, like, you’re kidding,” says Ms. Young, 57. “I was just
stunned.”

Though we are unlikely to ever reach a totally cashless society, the
disturbing trend does bring up interesting questions of privacy and
transacting “off the grid”… likely those advocating for a “no cash”
future will be the same ones pushing for greater surveillance power of
the state, as is quickly happening right now in places like China, where
its Orwellian ‘Social Credit System’ seeks to abolish any and all
private transactions altogether.

– Zero Hedge
..

Nearly 7 in 10 Americans Have Less Than $1,000 in Savings,

Nearly 7 in 10 Americans Have Less Than $1,000 in Savings, New Study Shows America’s spend-first mentality is a genuine concern.

The U.S. is often referred to as the land of economic opportunity. Apparently it’s also the land of consumption and “spend everything you’ve got.”

We don’t have to look far for confirmation that Americans are generally poor savers. Every month the St. Louis Federal Reserve releases data on personal household savings rates. In July 2016, the personal savings rate was just 5.7%. Comparatively, personal savings rates in the U.S. 50 years ago were double where they are today, and nearly all developed countries have a higher personal savings rate than the United States. In other words, Americans are saving less of their income than they should be — the recommendation is to save between 10% and 15% of your annual income — and they’re being forced to do more with less in terms of investing.

America’s poor savings habits

However, new data emerged this week from personal-finance news website GoBankingRates that shows just how dire Americans’ savings habits really are.

Last year, GoBankingRates surveyed more than 5,000 Americans only to uncover that 62% of them had less than $1,000 in savings. Last month GoBankingRates again posed the question to Americans of how much they had in their savings account, only this time it asked 7,052 people. The result? Nearly seven in 10 Americans (69%) had less than $1,000 in their savings account.

Breaking the survey data down a bit further, we find that 34% of Americans don’t have a dime in their savings account, while another 35% have less than $1,000. Of the remaining survey-takers, 11% have between $1,000 and $4,999, 4% have between $5,000 and $9,999, and 15% have more than $10,000.

Furthermore, even though lower-income adults struggle with saving money more than middle- and upper-income folks, no income group did particularly well. Some 29% of adults earning more than $150,000 a year, and 44% making between $100,000 and $149,999, had less than $1,000 in savings. Comparatively, 73% of the lowest income adults (those earnings $24,999 or less annually) had less than $1,000 in their savings account.

There was even minimal difference between multiple generations of Americans. From seniors aged 65 and up to young millennials aged 18 to 24, between 62% and 72% of Americans had less than $1,000 in a savings account.

The sources of America’s poor saving habits

This data is particularly worrisome since the recommendation is for Americans to have six months in expenses saved in case of an emergency, such as a large medical expenses, car repair bill, or losing your job. Without this emergency fund to fall back on, millions of Americans could be risking financial disaster.

According to GoBankingRates’ report, two factors are to blame for Americans’ inability to save. First, some Americans are simply living beyond their means. With roughly 70% of U.S. GDP tied to consumption, and our society revolving around going out for entertainment, this isn’t too surprising.

The other issue is that credit cards and alternative payment platforms, such as Apple Pay, have made it easier than ever to spend money. It’s a lot easier to spend money when you’re not dealing with tangible cash. This out of sight, out of mind mentality could leave Americans out of money when they need it.

Six tips to a better budget

The obvious solution to fixing America’s savings woes is for Americans to adopt (and stick to) a detailed monthly budget. A 2013 survey from national pollster Gallup found that just 32% of American households were sticking to a monthly budget. Without a budget it can be practically impossible for consumers to understand their cash flow – and if they don’t understand their cash flow, they won’t be able to maximize their savings.

With this in mind, here are six tips that should help get you on the right track to growing your savings account and building a healthy emergency fund.

1. Use online budgeting tools

The first move to make is to use online budgeting software. The days of having to formulate a budget by hand are long gone, and they’ve been replaced by a plethora of online budgeting tools, some of which are free. In many instances online budgeting software will not only handle the grunt work of adding and subtracting, but it can also help you formulate a savings plan based on the dollar amount or percentage of earned income you want to save. In roughly 30 minutes you could have a working budget in place.

2. Surround yourself with like-minded people

The second key to a great budget is that you’ll want to surround yourself with like-minded people that share your goal of financial betterment. Your chances of sticking to your budget will be substantially higher if everyone in your household, including a significant other, kids, grandparents, or friends, are also sticking to a budget. If you live alone, consider meeting up with a group of people once or twice monthly who share the same mission as you (to save money).

3. Consider the use of separate accounts or cash

It’s no secret that Americans have a propensity to spend first and ask questions later, which is made easy with the use of credit cards and alternative payment options. One of the best ways to break the “spend first” habit is to consider the use of separate spending accounts. For example, if you’re budgeting $300 a month to entertainment, consider putting that $300 in a separate account or even a jar in the kitchen cupboard to create a degree of separation from your checking or savings account. This could cut down your desire to spend money if you see that it’s available.

Another possible suggestion involves using cash instead of credit. Cash is tangible, and having to open your wallet and part with your cash to purchase a good or service can make a person think twice about whether a good or service is necessary.

4. Set up automatic withdrawals

Fourth, it’s important to set up automatic withdrawals to hold yourself accountable for your spending and saving habits. It doesn’t matter whether you have withdrawals made directly from your paycheck or you set up automatic transfers from a checking account to a savings account; the point being simply that you have withdrawals made automatically to keep yourself on track to save. This also removes the need to remember to make withdrawals weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, and eliminates a prime excuse for not saving.

5. Be S.M.A.R.T.

Fifth, it’s important to set S.M.A.R.T. goals with your budget. The acronym “SMART” stands for:
• Specific
• Measurable
• Achievable
• Realistic
• Time-based

One of the reasons so many Americans probably fail in their efforts to save more is their goals are too vague or lofty. Simply saying that you’ll “save more” is far too vague and doesn’t allow for an individual to measure their progress or adjust their spending and saving habits. However, setting specific, yet achievable, savings goals allows you to regularly measure your progress and make adjustments on an as-needed basis. Remember, this is your budget, and you can make changes to it as you see fit.

6. Analyze your data monthly

Finally, make sure you’re analyzing your budget regularly (which is where the “measurable” aspect of SMART goal-setting comes into play). Though you may choose to analyze your spending habits more or less frequently, setting aside 15 to 30 minutes each month to measure your progress and make adjustments is often sufficient.

America’s saving habits may be poor now, but it really wouldn’t take much to right the ship.

Sean Williams