As flesh-and-blood bank tellers disappear, ATMs are becoming the only way to get access to your cash. But new limits from Chase on how much you’re allowed to withdraw are a privacy advocate’s nightmare come true.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Chase is limiting cash withdrawals for non-customers to $1,000. This doesn’t seem like such a big deal to most people, and I suspect few Americans will be affected by this change. But it’s a crucial, if admittedly incremental, shift for people who care about privacy.
The third paragraph of the Wall Street Journal story is what’s really important in order to understand why any of this matters. Emphasis mine.
The bank run by Chairman and Chief Executive Jamie Dimon said there doesn’t appear to be fraud involved. But in part due to heightened regulatory scrutiny, banks are paying more attention to large cash transfers that could be a sign of money laundering or other types of shady activity.
There’s “no fraud involved,” but withdrawing cash is “shady.”
How does one define shady activity? That’s not clear. But since precisely one lowly person went to prison after our economy was nearly destroyed by systemic corporate malfeasance, everything Wall Street did in the lead up to 2008 must not count as shady activity. Anything you’d like to do with $1,001 in cash, well, that’s probably shady.
Again, this is a rule for non-customers, which Chase has every legal right to impose. And there are probably plenty of seedy characters doing morally reprehensible shit with their large cash withdrawals. But the normalization of treating all large cash transactions as “shady” starts to make it seem like total government and corporate surveillance is inevitable.
In the 1970s a group of academics and security researchers held a conference and were tasked with devising a hypothetical surveillance system that could comprehensively track every American. They essentially proposed the debit card system we live with today.
Chase, Visa, Google, Amazon, and the Department of Homeland Security know more about me than I do. Some of them would like to simply sell me more gadgets and specially tailored jeans, the size of which is inferred by my alcohol and pizza purchases. But the digital dossiers of my purchases, which track everywhere I go and everything I buy, means that I have no reasonable expectation of privacy in virtually any aspect of my life.
Our completely cashless society is just around the corner. But as with every technological advance, we better be prepared for the sacrifices in privacy that are hot on its heels. We can’t say that the folks of the 1960s and 70s didn’t warn us.