Sunday, January 20, 2013

Supporting the resistance, money

The other day I was in one of those large box hardware stores buying some nails. I found what I wanted and then went to pay at one of the self-service pay stations. I scanned the box of nails, popped a twenty into the machine, collected my change, and went out to my car. Just as I got to my car the thought occurred to me;  "How did the machine know I gave it a twenty?" That got me thinking.

For a while now I have been wondering how best to securely and anonymously support the various groups I am interested in.  Paying by credit card or check is a dead give away. Whether or not the government has access to the databases at my bank or credit card company is irreverent.  In the first place if the authorities wanted it, it would not be difficult for them to get access and in the second place a basic practice of any activist is to assume they are being watched. Accessing databases is really not difficult for people trained in programming. As long as one is given access, a login and password, and an understanding of how the data is laid out, a schema, then it becomes straight forward to make a query to the database.

So, credit cards and checks are ruled out. That leaves cash but how to donate securely and anonymously? Here is my thinking. There are a number of web pages talking about RFID tags being embedded into US currency others say that this is nonsense. Either way the point is there are other ways that currency bills can be tracked. Have a look at any US bill. Every one has two serial numbers on the front of the bill. It is possible, given a bills serial number, to determine what is the monetary value as well as it's printing year and which mint it was printed at. A clever programmer could write code that, given the serial number of a bill, return this information.

The next thought is how does one get their bills. Well, if I consider my actions to be like everyone else then you either get your paper money from a bank, most likely an ATM, or in change from some transaction like buying nails in a hardware store. Lets consider the ATM. Getting money out of the ATM is straight forward. You walk up to one of your banks ATM, put your ATM card in the machine, enter your PIN, select the amount you want and the machine spits out the cash and your ATM card.

OK, first step, putting your ATM card into the ATM. The card has an account number embossed on it as well as a magnetic strip. What is written onto the magnetic strip is a bank secret but one can guess it has the same number as the one embossed on the card and probability information identifying the bank as well as checksum to ensure the information has not been tampered with.  Next you supply your PIN. At this point you have proven your identity to the ATM and it now access your account. It determines if you have enough in your account to dispense the requested amount. The ATM counts out the requested amount, usually in twenties, and dispenses it and the same time it ejects your ATM card.

At this point an entry has been made in the bank's database that at such and such time, at a specific ATM, you withdrew a certain amount of money from your bank account. The ATM might have even taken your picture and added it the withdraw record. But you got your cash now you can safely send it to the organization your are supporting or can you? Lets consider the self-service check out at the big-box hardware store. How did it know I gave it a twenty ?

Well, the self-service machine scanned the bill. Every bill has the monetary value of the bill written in a very large font in each of the four corners. The bill also has the bills serial number in two places. This serial number is written in a standard font and might be printed in magnetic ink. Did the scanner read the serial number to determine the monetary value of the bill ? I think so, one more check to make sure the bill is not a counterfeit. The machine could also check for the plastic strip embedded in the paper, when exposed to ultraviolet light it fluoresce a specific color but what do you do about bill printed before the mint started putting that strip into the paper?  I have several one dollar silver certificates from the late 1950's that my grandfather gave me. It is still legal tender but does not have the plastic strip embedded in it plus also has the old layout. The serial numbers may or may not be printed with magnetic ink but the font is exactly the same so I'm pretty sure that the modern bill scanners do read the serial numbers of the bills.

If the self-service pay stations scan the bills, an assumption, then I think it is safe to assume that the ATM also scans the bills when it dispenses the bills. If it does read the serial numbers what does it do with the information. I can think of a couple of reasons why law enforcement would want to know which individual bills got dispensed to which person. Think about drug dealers and money laundering. If we go with that assumption, I know it sounds paranoid, then the safe thing is assume that every time you take money out of the ATM a database entry is made of each bills serial number dispensed to you.  Say you mail some of those bills to an organization that has been labeled a terrorist organization then you could be charged to giving support to a terrorist organization.

The rulers of this country have decided that any activist organization could be labeled a terrorist organization thereby making it easier for them to suppress decent and support the agenda of their true constituents, the corporations. As activists we need to support each other but how to do it without having the status quo take notice. I've given this a bit of thinking and in think about all of the above I have decided that the following is the way around this delima .

The way forward is to obtain bills that have not been tied to yourself. First step is to establish a pattern of usage. Deposit your paycheck or however you get paid in your bank every week or every other week based on how you get paid. Then take an amount of cash out of the ATM to last you the week, think of it, as my grand father used to call it, your walk-around money. Now, every time you buy anything, gas, food, what ever use that cash. Pay your bills you get in the mail with your checking account but everything else use your cash. Save the bills you get in change, when you get enough to make a twenty out those bills put them in a separate place in your wallet. Next time you are buying something with your cash pay the merchant then ask him if he can take the bills you have put aside and give you a twenty. Most merchants are always low on small denomination bills and will be happy to take your bills. That twenty that you just got from the merchant is not tied to you in any database so when you get home put it in a separate place like in a book or an envelope in your sock drawer. Over time you will put together a nice stash of bills.

Now how to send it to the organization you support? Simply putting it in the US mail I think is kinda of risky. The FBI has been known to open postal mail, see the wikipedia entry for COINTELPRO, and if the new paper money does have RFID tags embedded in them it wold be easy to scan for them. A better way would be using FedEX or UPS. Sending the money in a book would be best. Put in a box slightly larger than the book would make it just another box and not very noteworthy.

I know all of the above sounds paranoid but, if we have to live by Moscow Rules, the question is; are we paranoid enough