No Surveillance State Month, Part 5: Anonymous Electronic Payments

Bitcoin Sometimes, electronic transactions are the only practical method of payment. Making a purchase at or holding open a bar tab will be frustrated if you have no plastic. You can still complete these transactions without creating a log that can be tied back to you thanks to prepaid debit cards that you can purchase virtually anywhere these days.

At my local Walgreens, you can grab $200 cards for $205.95, which works out to a 3% fee or the cost of about 2 ATM transactions. You can also find these guys at banks, money services companies (Western Union), and department stores (Kmart, Walmart). Terms vary, and you can find better or worse deals than Walgreens has to offer. In addition to holding on to some of your privacy, you also reap the benefit that a fraudster can’t clean out your bank account if that Internet retailer you just shopped at gets hacked, and there won’t be any surprise recurring fees from any merchants — by the time recurring fees would hit your card, it’s empty. A beautiful thing.

Prepaid cards can also be turned into Bitcoin, an untraceable (if done right) Internet currency that is starting to gain significant acceptance at Web-based merchants. Bitcoin works by using a peer-to-peer transaction database and strong encryption that allows only the present “owner” of the money to send it to someone else. The “owner” of the money is identified only by a string of random numbers (think like a debit card number, except there’s no name on the card). How to use Bitcoin is beyond the scope of what I can fit into a brief blog post, but the Wiki article is a great place to start if you’re interested.

This is one of a 30-part series, “No Surveillance State Month,” where daily for the month of June I’ll be posting ways to avoid invasion of your privacy in the digital age. The intent of these posts is not to enable one to escape detection while engaging in criminal activity — there’s still the old-fashioned “send a detective to watch you” for which these posts will not help. Rather, this series will help you to opt-out of the en masse collection of data by the government and large corporations that places Americans in databases without their knowing and freely-given consent for indefinite time periods. We all have the right to privacy, and I hope you demand it.

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