Bank Privacy Part Deux

Posted 19 Feb 2010

In a previous post I layed out the foundation for the importance of bank privacy to a free society and the negative effect that certain laws have on bank privacy

Another threat to bank privacy is the threat that arises from competing brands of law. While the US brand does not favor bank privacy, the Swiss brand historically has. Let's pretend that you have decided to switch brands. Your US brand is too expensive and doesn't have the features you want, so you try the Swiss brand. What can you expect from making the switch?

Bank Employees Pose A Risk

Until recently, there have been few problems with making such a switch. The Swiss banking laws were well respected enough to protect their brand and prevent serious violation by Swiss citizens.  This has begun to change.  Take for example the recent disclosure of protected banking information by Rudolph Elmer, a Swiss banker.

After leaving Julius Baer he took the names and account information of several US and other citizens subject to US law and disclosed them to authorities in the US. But why is it good that he violated the law of his own country in order to uphold the law of another?

Even if you follow the human livestock theory of taxation, you are likely to understand the need for confidentiality in many situations. Lawyers, psychologists, priests and others have a duty to keep confidential secrets, even in cases of serious crimes. Banks subject to US law, however, must reveal lots of information, regardless of criminal activity, to government entities, even though economic freedom is just as important as other freedoms.  

The irradication of financial crimes usually isn't as compelling as the irradication of violent crimes, yet violent crimes are protected by confidentiality while financial crimes are not. Although Rudolph claims to be a whistleblower, he is blowing the whistle for the wrong reason.

Banking Laws Are Like Speech Laws

We can compare the competing bank privacy laws in the US and Switzerland to the competing free speech laws in China and the US. In China speech is monitored, regulated and controlled by the government and its agents, people are regularly imprisoned for their speech and companies are required to monitor speech

This is very similar to the way bank privacy laws function in the US. In the US, there is a very narrow category of speech, such as fraud, that is illegal and we will pretend that speech is generally unmonitored in the US, much like banking information in Switzerland.

If a Chinese citizen came to the US and decided to engage in speech in violation of Chinese law, for example being critical of abuses of the Chinese government, would any US citizen turn them in for that? Even if the Chinese tried to compel a US company to engage in censoring the speech of its Chinese citizen customers, would they do so?

It is a different story if the Chinese government has sufficient cause to believe that particular individuals were using the services of US companies to engage in speech that is also illegal in the US, such as fraud.

This is essentially what Rudolph has done. He has decided to violate the laws of his own country in favor of another country because it was more profitable. How is this any different from what was done by the people he has exposed?

Damage From Disclosure Is Difficult To Measure

The problem with violating any confidentiality agreement or non-disclosure agreement is that the actual damages that can occur are almost impossible to calculate and so a remedy at law is inadequate. You cannot unring the bell. That being said, the fact that Rudolph spent only minimal time in jail for his crime is probably not sufficient compensation to the victims of his crime. What remedy is then left to the victims?

I hope they respect the law more than Rudolph does and do not seek to benefit from the violation of law. Although it might be politically, socially and economically beneficial to several parties to hire a hitman for $50,000, that would be a violation of the law.

If you, like Rudolph, are in the position where you need to choose between competing brands, be sure to choose wisely.   Now, more than ever, Rudolph needs the help of How To Vanish to be able to rest easy at night.

Avoid Bank Privacy Violations

What can you do to avoid the potential harm of forced disclosure and surreptitious surrender of information by trusted banks? First, avoid banking with Swiss banks Credit Suisse and UBS AG. They routinely reveal bank secrets to US authorities. Use lawful hawala transactions to keep your financial activities private.  Hawala banking has a far better record than western style banking at protecting your privacy.

  Use cash or barter for exchanges whenever possible.  Get the book How To Vanish, Legally Protecting Your Personal and Financial Privacy to craft a complete personal strategy.  Become familiar with the best offshore jurisdictions that will protect your bank privacy

At the most extreme, you may wish to switch brands and expatriate , or at least become a resident of another country, in order to benefit from more favorable privacy laws of another country.  Choosing the location of your bank wisely can help you save money in taxes if you travel outside of the tax free states.