In late October of 1971 a group of academics and technologists gathered at a conference at Georgetown. They were given the task of devising the most comprehensive (yet invisible) surveillance program imaginable. What they came up with sounds an awful lot like our current debit card system.
This was the question posed to the researchers in 1971:
Suppose you were an advisor to the head of the KGB, the Soviet Secret Police. Suppose you are given the assignment of designing a system for the surveillance of all citizens and visitors within the boundaries of the USSR. The system is not to be too obtrusive or obvious. What would be your decision?
What amazing, unobtrusive surveillance system did they come up with? It wasn’t a network of intercepting every phone call or placing cameras on every street corner. They imagined an electronic funds transfer system, or EFTS—a system that looks strikingly similar to the debit card system we all use today.
The September 1975 issue of Computers and People magazine gave readers a peek at this system that was to come: