Swedens central bank governor has called for public control over its payment system. Others tell a fully digital system is vulnerable to fraud and attack
It is hard to argue that you cannot trust the government when the government isn’t really all that bad. This is the problem facing the small but growing number of Swedes anxious about their country’s rushing to embracing a cash-free society.
Most consumers already say they manage without money wholly, while shops and coffeehouse increasingly refuse to accept notes and coins because of the costs and risk involved. Until recently, however, it has been hard for critics to find a hearing.
” The Swedish government is a rather nice one, we have been lucky enough to have mostly nice ones for the past 100 years ,” says Christian Engstrom, a former MEP for the Pirate Party and an early opponent of the cashless economy.
” In other countries there is much more awareness that you cannot trust the governmental forces all the time. In Sweden it is hard to get people mobilised .”
There are signs this might be changing. In February, the head of Sweden’s central bank warned that Sweden could soon face such cases where all pays were controlled by private sector banks.
The Riksbank governor, Stefan Ingves, called for new legislation to secure public control over the payments system, arguing that being able to make and receive pays is a” collective good” like defense, the courts, or public statistics.
” Most citizens would feel uncomfortable to resignation these social functions to private companies ,” he said.
” It should be obvious that Sweden’s preparedness would be weakened if, in a serious crisis or war, we had not decided in advance how households and companies would pay for ga, renders and other necessities .”
The central bank governor’s remarks are helping to bringing other concerns about a cash-free society into the mainstream, tells Bjorn Eriksson, 72, a former national police commissioner and the leader of a group “ve called the” Cash Rebellion, or Kontantupproret.
Until now, Kontantupproret has been rejected as the voice of the elderly and the technologically backward, Eriksson says.
” When you have a fully digital system you have no weapon to defend yourself if someone turns it off ,” he says.
” If Putin invades Gotland[ Sweden’s largest island] it will be enough for him to turn off the payments system. No other country would even think about taking these sorts of dangers, they would demand some sort of analog system .”
In this sense, Sweden is far from its famous concept of lagom -” merely the right amount”- but instead is” 100% extreme “, Eriksson tells, by investing so much religion in the banks.” This is a political question. We are leaving these decisions to four major banks who form a monopoly in Sweden .”
No system based on technology is invulnerable to flaws and scam, tells Mattias Skarec, 29, a digital security consultant. Yet Sweden is divided into two camps: the first says” we love the new technology”, while the other only can’t be bothered, Skarec tells.” We are naive to think we can abandon cash completely and rely on technology instead .”
Skarec points to problems with card payments experienced by two Swedish banks just during the past year, and by Bank ID, the digital authorisation system that allows people to identify themselves for pay purposes utilizing their phones.
Fraudsters have already learned to exploit the system’s foibles to trick people out of large sums of money, even their pensions.
The best occurrence scenario is that we are not as procure as we think, Skarec says- the worst is that IT infrastructure is systemically vulnerable.
” We are lucky that the people who know how to hack into them are on the good side, for now ,” he tells.” But we don’t know how things will progress. It’s not easier than i thought to assault devices today, but maybe it will become easier to do so in the future .”
The banks recognise that digital payments can be vulnerable, just like money.
” Of course there are people trying to abuse them, but they are no more vulnerable than any other technique of pay ,” says Per Ekwall, a spokesperson for Swish, the immensely popular mobile pays system owned by Sweden’s banks.
” From a macro perspective Swish has made it safer, and cheaper ,” he tells. There is little phase in fighting a trend that customers themselves are driving, the banks argue.
But an opinion poll this month disclosed unease among Swedes, with almost seven out of 10 saying they wanted to keep the option to use money, while simply 25% wanted a wholly cashless society. MPs from left and right expressed concerns at a recent parliamentary hearing. Parliament is conducting a cross-party review of central bank legislation that will also investigate the questions surrounding cash.
The Pirate Party- which made its name in Sweden for its opposition to country and private sector surveillance- welcomes a higher political profile for these issues.
Look at Ireland, Christian Engstrom tells, where abortion is illegal. It is much easier for authorities to identify Irish women who have had an abortion if the country can track all digital financial transactions, he tells. And while Sweden’s government might be relatively benign, a quick look at Europe indicates “were not receiving” assure how things might develop in the future.
” If you have control of the servers belonging to Visa or MasterCard, you have control of Sweden ,” Engstrom says.
” In the meantime, we will have to keep giving our money to the banks, and hope they don’t go bankrupt- or bananas .”
Such articles is part of a series on possible solutions to some of the world’s most stubborn problems. What else should we covering? Email us at theupside @theguardian. com
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