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Could Using Cash Put You in Jail?

Federal Laws and Public Policy Link Privacy with Terrorism

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Could Using Cash Put You in Jail?

If you are concerned about protecting your privacy, some organizations believe you may be a terrorist.

Getty/Nick M Do

We’ve hit a very odd point in American culture. While we are combating terrorism overseas, various policies and new laws seem to be geared toward some clandestine control of the everyday citizen. At the heart of this is the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed into law by President Obama on December 31, 2011, specifically Section 1021 of that law, which many legal experts say give the government the authority to arrest and detain American citizens indefinitely without trial, if they are suspected terrorists. What has that to do with identity theft? Well, let’s put that on a back burner for a minute, and look at information being published by the Joint Regional Intelligence Center.

Your Guide has often recommended that one easy way to cut down on your risk of financial identity theft is to use cash instead of a credit or debit card for purchases. Cash is still a valuable asset in that it is an immediate and indisputable transfer of funds for goods or services, and immediately satisfies a debt. Many Americans are forced to use cash because they can no longer get a bank account due to finance-related issues in their past (i.e. their name has been registered with CheckSystems, and banks will no longer open an account with them.) Although the way banks assess NSF charges has changed, many people registered with CheckSystems are there because they refused to pay the outrageous charges banks used to levy against customers for overdrafting their account – the practice was deemed “predatory”, which means the banks were taking advantage of their own customers.

The point in using cash is that you don’t leave a card number behind for the merchant to have to keep safe. The idea is that most companies have inadequate safeguards in place to protect your personal information, so it’s best to keep that information away from as many companies as you can.

The Joint Regional Intelligence Center (JRIC) is based in Norwalk, CA. The description on their website conjures visions of Jack Bauer and his Counter Terrorist Unit, from the hit series 24. Here’s how JRIC describe their organization (from their website):

The Joint Regional Intelligence Center (JRIC) is a collaboration between federal, state, and local law enforcement and public safety agencies to integrate criminal and terrorism threat intelligence and provide intake, analysis, fusion, synthesis, and dissemination of that information. The JRIC converts the information into operational intelligence to detect, deter, and defend against terrorist attacks and major criminal threats within the seven counties of FBI's Los Angeles field office jurisdiction.

JRIC has started putting out information that identifies consumers as potential terrorists if they are concerned about protecting their privacy. In fact, the list of potential terrorist warning signs is downright disturbing. Using cash is something they want citizens and business owners to report as suspicious activity. Also, asking questions in electronic stores, trying to open up a bank account for a shell company, talking to your friends on a PC game, using VOIP, or just shielding your screen from prying eyes in an internet café. Farmers may be terrorists by transporting their own fertilizer, buying enough fertilizer to refill their machinery when it runs out, or just being a new face in the community.

You can look over any of the JRIC fliers on the Public Intelligence website. And while their fliers all say something to the effect that “these are all legal activities”, they ask business owners specifically to report anything that fits into these categories. It is seriously looking more and more like Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother and all. It’s also noteworthy that JRIC is focused on 7 counties in California, but these fliers are showing up around the country.

The overall atmosphere is moving toward one of suspicion concerning anyone who seems to be interested in protecting their identity. And while it is true that terrorists will want to keep other from finding out who they are, there are far more consumers who have learned to use the same techniques to protect themselves from identity theft.

So, now we’re back to the National Defense Authorization Act. In an effort to protect Americans, what has sprouted is a rapidly growing culture of suspicion that bears a striking resemblance to McCarthyism, with the added concern that once you’re identified as a potential terrorist, you can be toted off at gunpoint and held indefinitely without trial or legal help.

As a note of interest, the idea that terrorists want to keep their identities quiet until their mission is carried out may be a bit deceptive, since the Federal government has been known to pick names out of a hat and say “he did it.” The BBC has been often cited concerning the 9/11 hijackers, who they reported 2 days after the event were not all dead. Actually, four of the 19 hijackers that have been blamed for the attack are still alive today, which fuels anti-government conspiracy theories all over the internet.

But be careful with that, as well. Anti-government conspiracy theorists (often called “truthers”) are also considered potential terrorists.

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