A growing number of retail businesses are refusing to let their customers pay in cash. This is bad for privacy. Higher-tech payment methods, like credit cards and online payment systems, often create an indelible record of what we bought, and at what time and place. How can you stop data thieves, data brokers, and police from snooping on your purchase history? Pay in cash.

Stores with “cash not accepted” policies are also unfair to the millions of Americans who are unbanked or underbanked, and thus lack the ability to pay without cash. This cohort disproportionately includes people of color and people with lower incomes. Stores that require high-tech payment methods discriminate against people without access to that tech.

So EFF supports the Payment Choice Act (S. 4145, H.R. 2650), a federal bill sponsored by Senators Kevin Cramer and Robert Menendez and Representative Donald Payne. It would require retail stores to accept cash from in-person customers. The bill ensures effective enforcement with a private right of action.

We proudly signed a coalition letter in support of the Payment Choice Act. This effort, organized by Consumer Federation of American and Consumer Action, is joined by 51 consumer, privacy, and civil rights advocacy organizations. The letter explains:

Unbanked consumers have little access to noncash forms of payment. Without a bank account, they are unable to obtain credit or debit cards or to use other noncash payment methods, with the possible exception of prepaid cards. Furthermore, when consumers are forced to pay for goods and services in cashless transactions, they (as well as the businesses where they shop) are also often forced to incur added expenses in the form of network and transaction fees.

Furthermore, noncash transactions generate vast amounts of data, recording the time, date, location, amount, and subject of each consumer’s purchase. Those data are available to digital marketers and advertisers who are engaged in developing and refining increasingly sophisticated techniques to identify and target potential customers. Paying with cash provides consumers with significantly more privacy than do electronic forms of payment.

While some have expressed concerns about accepting cash in the midst of the pandemic, others can only pay in cash, and we cannot allow our current crisis to solidify discrimination permanently. Congress should protect cash payment.

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