Add this to the list of our country's technological backwardness:
The rest of the western world has figured out how to dramatically reduce identity theft and credit card fraud.
We, however, still use magnetic stripes. Stripes that can be so easily cloned and copied.
And even though the credit card industry is rigorous about prosecuting fraud, they haven't taken the single, fairly simple, if admittedly not cheap, step to solving the problem.
It's cheap enough, however, for 80 other countries to have upgraded. Instead of magnetic stripes, which contain a single code for all time, smart cards are like one-time only pads that spies used to use. The smart card's microprocessor talks to the machine you're transacting with, verifies its identity, and then transmits an encrypted code that the outbound machine verifies. Humans don't see the digital intercourse. The transaction is secure.
Smartcard-ready retailers don't keep credit card numbers on file, or on mainframes waiting for cyberthieves to steal them. They keep transaction records instead.
Post Snowden, I imagine that Smartcard makers will want to make sure that there aren't any implants or software backdoors. That'll especially be true if we begin to use digital cards for non-consumer purposes, like health care.
According to various accounts, the credit card industry wants to phase in smart cards by 2015, but retailers are resisting the costs associated with the infrastructure change.