By NICOLE BURROWS
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)
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