Politicole: Snowden, Surveillance And Banks Blinded By Policy


THE battle with certain Canadian banks in The Bahamas that are imposing unacceptable, unfounded policies on Bahamians continues.

To the certain Canadian banks: is it not enough that you rape the people economically, now you have to rape them of their individual personal freedoms? Some may say that if you rape them of their money that is equivalent to the removal of personal freedom. That may be so.

But, let’s recap the situation for those who didn’t catch it the first time.

Scotiabank and First Caribbean International Bank have an inane policy of asking/telling you, the client, to remove your sunglasses before entering the bank. It’s been years now, but, lately, they have become more extreme. Here’s the latest. I walked into Scotiabank several weeks back, with my shades on. I passed by the security guard, in plain view, with my shades on. He seemed to want to tell me something but he did not. I waited on the line, got to the teller, where a very young man, not long ago a boy, asked me to take off my shades. Here we go again.

“Why?” I asked. Because if he’s asking me this stupid question, he should at least know why, right? Well, his response was something about it being bank policy.

Listen, buddy, I don’t give a crack about bank policy if it’s infringing on my personal freedoms. I refuse to remove my shades. And I tell him so. I say let’s get on with my business. He says he can’t serve me.

“Why can’t you serve me?”

“Because you won’t take off your shades.”

“Well, I’m not moving; you better go find your bank manager because someone is serving me today.”

He goes to the corner and makes a call then comes back and says his manager is coming. Eventually, she shows up behind me and beckons me to walk over to her office, hoping not to create a bigger scene. I go quietly with her under the gaze of other customers and staff, now resenting the fact that my five-minute transaction has turned into a 25-minute visit because of this ridiculous bank’s “no shades” policy.

I go into her office. She’s a very pleasant, very professional woman. We discuss the problem. She tells me that this is a policy from “head office”. I tell her it’s a ridiculous policy and one they should seriously rethink. She tells me that other customers have complained and even closed their accounts. And though she doesn’t say it, I get the feeling that she agrees with me, at least in part. But, of course, she represents the bank, so she has to be stoic for their part of this argument.

She tries to explain something to me that makes no sense. I tell her as much. On we go like this until she says the situation should never have got this far, because the security guard is supposed to stop me at the door. “Why?” I ask. “Do I look like a criminal?” Because that’s what you’re telling me … that, if your security guard thinks I look like a criminal, because he in all his wisdom gets to decide that, then he can deny me entry to the bank.

Now, let’s be clear. I understand a few things about this situation.

1) this is a private entity and it has its own rules. Fine.

2) this is a subsidiary of a foreign entity in a jurisdiction twice removed from its origin, which operates under the laws of another country, and which, throughout its origin, does not impose the same inane policy.

3) this entity is, presumably, concerned about securing its premises. Why so much, so sudden? Has there been a slew of bank robberies lately of which I’m not aware?

4) in The Bahamas, this bank’s clients are primarily Bahamian.

5) though they are few, and becoming all too similar as though in collusion with one another to milk their customers for every dollar they can get, we, the primarily Bahamian customers, have but a couple other banking options.

My overarching issue with these banks is this:

You are infringing upon the personal freedoms of the people you depend on to make your money, by enforcing a method of mass surveillance which profiles every single client of the bank on the basis of their physical appearance, with no scientific evidence that this is an effective measure of securing your premises or your clients. So, find another way to secure your premises and your clients, or provide me with the evidence that shows me how much safer I will be because you tell everyone to take their shades off when they enter your bank.

Now, I know there are some people out there who think this is crazy and, you know, why don’t I just remove my shades and be done with it.

Well, I wouldn’t expect you to think or say differently if you are accustomed to being the bank’s bitch. You are so used to being walked on and run over that it doesn’t even phase you that your simple freedoms are slowly being eroded on the basis of nothing ... only because someone is in a seat of power driven by the money in their portfolio. If you don’t want to stand up for your rights, that’s your problem. I’ll stand up for mine. And if yours gets protected in the process, then good for you. Shame on you, but good for you.

Now, what does any of this have to do with Edward Snowden? I’ll be honest. I’ve only recently paid attention to Snowden’s story. I didn’t follow it when it broke, because I guess I was too busy to notice. But, I stumbled upon it recently while searching for something else about civil liberties.

Having done the research, I can say that I understand the core arguments of Snowden and the US government. I accept both sides of the story. I get it. He says he’s fighting for freedom and they say they’re fighting for safety.

In fact, the core argument is pretty much the same as the one I have with the Canadian banks in The Bahamas.

Snowden, as I understand from his own words, was and is gravely concerned about the mass surveillance of Americans as opposed to specific, court-ordered surveillance of “suspicious” Americans. His observation was that mass surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) was ineffective, such that American liberties were being infringed upon for no real benefit, which “changes the balance of power between the citizen and the state”.

If you didn’t already know, since it was carried in our local Bahamian news, it was this same guy Snowden whose “NSA leak“ to three journalists and a filmmaker revealed that the NSA had a programme (SOMALGET) to collect the content of all mobile phone calls in The Bahamas … not just the metadata, the content. The Bahamas was (is?) one of a few countries being mass-surveilled by America. Not just the known criminals, but, conceivably, ordinary people like you and me. It makes one wonder about the depth of their interest, doesn’t it?

But like comedian John Oliver said in an interview with Snowden (see link below), most people in a country don’t give a shit about foreign surveillance. They don’t care that Gmail/Google, Facebook, Microsoft/Hotmail, Skype, Apple, Yahoo, YouTube and AOL “collaborated in secret” to allow the NSA to collect mass data from their company servers using a programme, called PRISM, for money. Or that another programme, Optic Nerve, was used by the United Kingdom and several other developed countries, to allow instant activation of your webcam to spy on you in your house or at work. People don’t start to care until you tell them that this collected data includes something very personal to them like pictures of their private parts, hence the comedian’s approach to the issue.

All that said, the questions are then: What freedoms do we hold sacred? And to have them, what is the cost we pay? Are we paying for our freedom with that same freedom? What is the benefit of mass surveillance versus targeted surveillance? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? Are we safer when everyone is surveilled?

When Scotiabank and First Caribbean International Bank ask you to take off your shades, or tell you that you have to, what is the value in that? What is the evidence that we all benefit from that policy? If there is none, then there is no benefit. And it is more than just unacceptable, it is a waste of resources and a misdirection of effort, when pointing the effort in another direction, oh, say, inside the bank and to those of the employees who might engage in fraudulent activity, would serve the bank and the public far better and more effectively.

How many times have you, the Canadian banks in question, been robbed by any member of the public as opposed to by your own employees? Because I can tell you some stories of private individuals and companies from whose accounts money has disappeared after supposed legitimate transactions, with not just limited opportunity for these persons and businesses to recover these lost funds but also an actual resistance, negligence and complete lack of co-operation on the part of said banks.

While we’re on the topic of security, for the development of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) in The Bahamas, we really ought to give these surveillance questions some deep consideration.

What methods of data/intelligence collection will the NIA use? Mass surveillance or targeted surveillance?

What will the selection criteria be for persons employed by the NIA? Knowing what we do about the academic non-achievement of Bahamians, from where will the pool of candidates come to comprise the staff of this new agency? This same agency where a simple spelling error could cause a mistaken identity with a really bad outcome. These are incredibly serious questions.

Do we really want people with grade averages of D and E to be in charge of intelligence? Seems like a bit of an oxymoron, no? They can’t add, they can’t spell, but you want them to determine your safety and to put their fingers on the triggers? Or is that the problem we have now in our battle against crime, where the unintelligent are the foot soldiers of intelligence?

Not only do the banks discriminately profile their clients, but they’re leaving someone at the door, who is unqualified, who may have two to five BGCSE passing grades, to make that decision.

If in your security measures you miss your target often or always, and the “bad guy” still gets by, then what is the point of those measures?

We are not unreasonable. Show us the proof of the effectiveness of your methods. Show the undeniable statistics that this method of surveillance, X of Y times per Z, catches the criminal.

Then, maybe, we’ll be happier to remove our sunglasses.

• John Oliver interview - https://youtu.be/XEVlyP4_11M (begin at 13 min 39 sec)

Send email to nicol@sent.com. Read previous articles via Facebook at ‘PolitiCole Bahamas’.


banker 5 years ago

Interesting that in Canada, these very same banks do not have a no-sunglasses policy. Nor do they have a security guard at the door.


zephyr 5 years ago

I thougnt that I was alone for a while on Scotiabank Bahamas crazy banking mentality...

Wait until you hear about the service charge on savings accounts. It is like, we do not want your money just now.


concernedcitizen 5 years ago

In the mid seventies when I was a teenager my mother would always say ,'take off your sunglasses indoors you look like a huley gulley or a hoodlum " I thought I was being cool ,now I think it is just tacky .I also think calling people who don,t share your opinion the "banks bitch " lacks class .Comparing your need to think your special to what Snowden did is pure ego driven hyperbole . Its been a long time since I took English but your first and second paragraph just runs on and "unfounded " is not the right word for what you are trying to convey .I have tried to enjoy your articles ,but they are just too childish , conflate fact with opinion and are almost at a teenagers level .


newcitizen 5 years ago

These articles have the intellectual depth and writing skill of a typical Facebook rant. I'm not even sure how this makes it in the paper.


EasternGate 5 years ago

I would really like to know what gives the Banks the authority to demand two separate identification, one being a passport, to cash a $50.00 cheque? A passport alone is sufficient.


a2z 5 years ago

Ms. Burrows this was great! I see some ole folks here want you to bow and sit small. Don't do it. Stand tall. It is those same labels of 'childish' to young people that have us where we are today.
Now I must say that while I wouldnt have written the 'bank's b*tch', I get all the salient points. I don't get that the language was used just because people disagree but because they are gullible pansies. It is not surprising how people can be so easily offended by truth. But I guess when the cap fit, concernedcitizen and others will wear it.

Not everyone will get it Ms. Burrows, and not everyone will care. But you keep on writing! You and Adrian Gibson and other young writers and reporters. Your words resonate with most of us! By the way, why don't Tribune writers reply to your readers some time? If you see this, join the conversation you started!! Very best to you.

ps -- I have a story for you too about these same banks!


Greentea 5 years ago

One of the best things that can happen for Bahamians would be to give Craig Flowers a bank license. At first I was a little skeptical because my parents remember something called Bodie Bank or some such but these Canadian banks and half Caribbean banks are horrible. The sector could use some COMPETITION! Offer me a reduced interest mortgage Mr. Flowers and we can talk.


banker 5 years ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.


Emac 5 years ago

Well said Nicole. I agree 100%!!!


newcitizen 5 years ago

Are you serious? This is an article for The Onion. You are complaining about having to take off your sunglasses, while inside of a business. Are you going to go to McDonald's with no shirt and shoes and demand they serve you?

So much entitlement in this article.


sugarbird 5 years ago

Nicole - I actually like a good deal of your commentary, but think you're off base on this one. Crime is a huge problem here, and this rule is in place to help prevent bank robberies. I for one have zero problems taking off my sunglasses indoors. We've gotten used to taking off shoes and belts to fly on airplanes too...sadly part of the modern world...


VDSheep 5 years ago

Scotiabank should have told the Baha Mar suits to take off their sunglasses. It seems - since they did not have them do so. Scotisbank'S policy is anti-Bahamian! The sunglass rule is crap along with Scotiabanks' negative attitude towards Bahamian clients and it's workers. Scotiabank need to take off its own sunglass!


concernedcitizen 5 years ago

I always find xenophopia in a country that depends on FDI , tourism ,and managing the wealth of people from other countries ,basically selling residency to high net worth individuals, mildly amusing ..


a2z 5 years ago

Wow newcitizen! Why so bitter? It's interesting how people take time out to be hateful. I am guessing as a " newcitizen" you have no ability whatsoever to identify with a real Bahamian. If you had the ability to read between the lines you would see this is really about the way Bahamians are treated in their own country, as are most of this lady's articles.


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