Life in the Electronic Fishbowl

The number of checks written in the United States began to decline in the mid-1990s. Electronic payments, using credit and debit cards, have increased almost fivefold in two decades and now exceed the number of checks written. The Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act, was recently passed and signed by the President. will become effective in October 2004. The Act virtually assures that all checks will be eliminated and turned into electronic payments. The act allows banks to take digital images of checks and then electronically remove the corresponding amount from your checking account without preserving or returning the actual check. The act removes the last barrier to a cashless monetary system and frees depository institutions to apply new technologies to traditional checkclearing activities. For most of the 20th century, cash and checks were the predominant method for making payments in the United States. In the 1960s, paperwork was overwhelming the financial markets. Automation was applied to paper-based clearing activities and new electronic systems were established. The 1990s saw "electronic cash" and "electronic checks", various programs to convert checks to electronic payments, facilitate their digital imaging and develops a searchable archive of every check image. Also, in the post 9-11-01 environment we are more aware of risk of disruptions to retail payments in the event of attacks, blackouts, or similar problems. As we increasingly rely on electronic payments for retail transactions, all ideas of financial privacy will disappear.

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