| 18 Feb 2004 @ 08:39, by ming. Privacy, Security|
One thing that puzzles me is the big holes there are in the systems for keeping track of people in most places. You know, almost every country in the world are a bit of an authoritarian police state that would like to force all its citizens to pay taxes and not be criminals or terrorists or child molesters, or whatever else they shouldn't be. And most citizens in those countries probably feel like they're thoroughly registered and tracked by their governments. But yet it is done so badly that one should almost think it is completely intentional.
It shouldn't be a hard problem to make an all-pervasive register of the citizens in a certain country. For that matter, it shouldn't be all that hard to make a rather complete centralized register of the six billion plus people on the planet. Hey, I could design the database if I had to, without too much trouble. Give everybody a unique identifier that one can only have one of, and catch any unregistered births the moment they show up at the doctor or in school or in a bank or at a border, and get them into the system. It would make it much easier to make sure that people paid their taxes and that they could be tracked if they did something "bad".
I'm rather content with it not being that way, as I don't trust authoritarian governments, particularly the ones with some kind of moral or religious agenda, but I don't thoroughly understand why it isn't that way. Despite what it might feel like, the tracking is very sloppy or non-existent in most places.
In the U.S. the ID number is the Social Security Number. There are first of all ways of not having one at all, even though that's cumbersome. But you can also quite easily get one by showing a few pieces of paper. And nothing serious stops you from having several. In many situations you can just make up a number or use somebody else's. In the U.S. the IRS only seems to pay much attention to you if you've volunteered by starting to file tax returns. If you don't start, or you get lost a little bit by changing your name, they probably lose track of you. If you just stop filing your tax return and move somewhere else, nothing much happens either. I was an illegal alien in the U.S. for years, and it didn't make much difference. I'm sure there are several million.
And here I am in France. Did I tell the U.S. that I moved? Not particularly. And there isn't any very official way of doing so anyway. I changed address to some friends who check my mail. I haven't decided if I will bother to keep filing U.S. tax returns, or whether I want to attempt to keep my greencard status. If I just forgot about it, nothing much would happen. And did I tell France that I now live here? Well, I rent a house, opened bank accounts. And the previous rule was that within 3 months you need to go and apply for a Carte de Sejour residence permit. But that system got cancelled, and so far not replaced with anything else. So, we're here, obviously, and have a right to be here, but we're not particularly in the system in any significant way. Showing our Danish passports works fine as ID and opens most doors. "Oh, you're Danish, that's in the EU, right? Then pas de probleme!" Likewise we can freely travel to any other EU country, and nobody's even going to look at us at the border. But we haven't lived in Denmark for 19 years. Denmark has practically forgotten all about us. Oh, we could go right back any time, and start acting Danish. But at this point we're sort of in-between countries, without being clearly identified as fitting in one place or the other.
Now the thought is that maybe that's the ideal. And maybe these loopholes are quite deliberate, to pave the way for the free global movement of capital. I'm sure it isn't meant for me, but probably rather for people who have large vested interests in being a bit outside the system, and able to move their money and their interests around without anybody noticing very much. There are of course more range of freedom if you have a complicated network of companies in different countries, off-shore trusts, anonymous banking, and citizenship in multiple countries. And your holdings are in the name of all sorts of different entities that can't easily be tracked. And you yourself are perpetually on vacation, moving around between your homes in different countries, or hanging out on your yacht.
The close scrutiny of people seems to apply mostly to people who volunteer to be good local national citizens. You get a job, a local bank account, buy a house, get a phone, all in your own name. And you stay put, and get busy watching TV and going to work and paying your bills.
Or you somehow fall into the large cracks in the system, temporarily or permanently, accidentally or deliberately. You might have no paperwork, or phoney paperwork. You might be a criminal who deliberately cover your tracks. You might have carefully removed yourself from the system by studying the basis for the laws and revoked your agreement with various implicit contracts. Or you might just be in a country where nobody expects you or looks for you. Or you have an army of lawyers and accountants who do everything for you, administering your holdings of wealth, but vigorously keeping you out of the obvious picture. I suspect it is for the latter that the loop holes are allowed to exist, and even be expanded. More >