Transacting money is the second most important activity humans do on a given day. Of course, the first is breathing. If you haven’t noticed, we make a lot of payments every day — every hour, to be precise. In a routine, third-world scenario, almost all of these payments go undetected by a third-party. You pay for service, and move on. It’s your own sweet, private world.
Now, imagine yourself being part of a network of seamless digital payments where each little monetary transaction you make is recorded, tracked and analysed. It not only gives away information on what you have paid for and who you have paid to; it reveals where you’ve made all those transactions as well. And, in all likelihood, location-enabled digital payment systems will store all the data embedded in the transactions; in the age of big data applications that can collate and analyse huge amounts of data real time and hand over results to various interested parties, this can be a little annoying and worrisome. And dangerous, too. As sceptics like Brett Scott — an ex-broker and author of The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money — have pointed out, this could lead to a case of alarming micro-surveillance, where governments and financial service providers will track all money movements from common citizens and derive unwarranted conclusions out of them.
A big data economic micro-surveillance system backed by (state-sponsored) macro-surveillance apparatuses does not augur well for the future of privacy. Who will be capable of dodging this Orwellian regime? Only those who rely on alternative digital currencies, such as bitcoin. And that’s too fantastic a notion for an overwhelming number of Indians. The government is pushing for an all-encompassing digital, cashless payment regime despite the fact that India has very low-levels of digital penetration. Forcing an ‘analog’ population into a digital world can be catastrophic given the lack of technological awareness. This would make people victims of data misuse. India has very porous cyber security rules. In fact, we don’t have a proper cyber security law for fintech. Unless strong policies to protect payments transaction data are in place, ‘cashless India’ would just be an invitation to chaos.
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