Swipe and tell us everything

6 March: A review written by former financial ombudswoman Natalie Ceeney and funded by Link, the cash machine operator, has warned that use of cash in the UK is in danger of ending as early as 2026, if not earlier. Use of card payments overtook cash in 2017, so the decline of cash is well underway. Some businesses are already refusing to accept cash payments.

Naturally, this will have social implications, but it has implications for intelligence and investigation as well. At the moment, when a subject of interest is selected, agencies will call for full background checks including records of credit card purchases and bank details. These can already provide quite a full picture of the target’s activities. But criminals and intelligence professionals have long known that anonymity lies in the use of cash because it is practically untraceable. Imagine now that every little thing a target pays for can be traced – right down to a newspaper or a pint of beer. It would yield the sort of detailed breakdown of activity that analysts have been praying for.

Of course, both intelligence professionals and criminals will soon find ways around the new systems. Use of other people’s cards, use of cards under alias, even use of pre-paid cards will almost certainly become standard aspects of tradecraft. But because of changes in society such as this and increased automatic surveillance using facial recognition software (see below), going under cover and staying hidden Рwhether you are a good guy or a bad guy (or gal) Рis destined to become just that little bit harder.

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