Pirates and Bank secrecy
Following a discussion on the Pirate Parties International mailing list, I wanted to shed a Swiss light on the hot topic of Bank secrecy. This is a topic on which the pirates did not take a stand yet, and still we will have to. The purpose of this post is not to opt for a stand, but just to give another view to add to the discussion.
The discussion started whether we should support or not Hervé Falciani that stole banking details of clients, gave them to another country and is now risking to be extradited in Switzerland. It might be not clear if he sold or just gave the data, it is still important that we should take a stand.
Clearly a Pirate does not like money. Or, let's put this way, a Pirate does not like money when it is gained on the back of others. If you earn your money by producing a good or adding intellectual value, then it is piratly acceptable and valued.
So when we start talking about banks and tax evasion or fraud, down deep in our hart, we, Pirates, can only be disgusted by the behaviour of those people ready to make profit on the back of the society. Fair enough.
But let's go a bit deeper, and let's try to decouple these two elements. Tax fraud is not Bank secrecy and vice-versa.
Bank Secrecy is a rule by which only a judicial authority, based on a lawful action, can ask a bank to provide details of a client. Oh wait. This is where it gets interesting. Let's compare it to online surveillance. The Pirates are fighting for the secrecy of communication. This mean that personal data hosted at an ISP can only be handed over to … a judicial authority, based on a lawful action.
We have two very close concepts, but as one of them involves money, well it puts Pirates in an uncomfortable and emotional situation. I cannot blame us, as I get the same reaction.
Now let's go a little bit back in history. Bank secrecy was establish in Switzerland, but also in many countries, as a tool to protect citizens from the governments, including foreign governments. If a banker would violate his professional secret, he would end up in jail. This is why you also have to declare your revenues to the government in order to compute your taxation. And we, Pirates, want to establish online communication secrecy to protect the citizens from the governments. The comparison is very strong here. ACTA was a starting point to establish systematic exchange of data between the countries. This is already in place in the financial world (see FATCA), and the only thing that is slowing down this exchange of data is the banking secrecy still active in certain countries.
As soon as we accept a certain degree of secrecy, we know it comes at a certain price. On the Net, we have child pornography, terrorism, illegal weapons trade, scams, etc... Well in the financial world we have tax evasion and fraud. It is of course difficult to compare the volumes of both types of activities, but is it online crime or financial crime, we all agree they both hurt the society and should be repressed.
In the online world, governments are using these crimes, as child pornography, to justify tracking our Internet. The method is clear: use any deviant behaviour and make it a rule in order to get public attention and buy-in for repressive methods.
To get rid of the secrecy and force control that breaches our civil liberties, the governments are using the same method: Putting an emphasis on the few black sheep to establish a wide surveillance system on our bank account. They are using child pornography to justify tracking our Internet, they already used tax evasion to justify tracking our bank accounts.
Ok but if we do not touch bank secrecy, we are still not comfortable with tax fraud, and money laundering. This is why, I believe we should apply the same methodology we are using for our Internet. We should provide solutions to remedy the causes of tax fraud. We should fight for a world where money is less important. But we must never forget our vision of a world where each citizen has the assurance that the governments are not controlling him, and that each citizen has the tools to control the governments.
I am not making a stand on bank secrecy here. But we shouldn't succumb to the same types of arguments we are fighting against in the online world. We need to get our definitions right between bank secrecy, tax fraud and money laundering. We need to analyze, understand the financial world, propose rational solutions that are protecting the citizens civil liberties. And we should imagine what would be the best financial system that will fit the information society and fight for it.