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10 March, 2008

Not accountable

Damn.  The last place I could readily exchange pounds for Euros anonymously has been dragged into line.  Now I'm obliged to show a driving licence or passport whenever I want to swap my money for a slightly different format of my money.

The official excuse is that it's to combat money laundering, but I have three major objections:

  • Presumption of guilt. Prove I'm a money-launderer, then refuse to serve me. No proof? Then give me my Euros. As is supposed to be standard in UK law, the accuser bears the burden of proving guilt – it's not for the defendant to prove innocence.
  • Who serves who? It's far easier for the government to take preemptive action against everyone than to identify criminals first, but that gets the relationship between the state and the individual back-to-front. The state exists to serve the individual; the individual's actions shouldn't be restricted for mere administrative convenience.
  • Wouldn't work. If there's a serious money-laundering problem, wouldn't that involve fake identity documents as a matter of routine? Would counter staff recognise a forged driving licence?
I'm no conspiracy theorist (honest), but I genuinely believe the 'money laundering' excuse is tangential at most, and the identity check is a symptom of social control – once people accept this and several other, individually trivial, impositions as routine they will more readily accept further intrusions into privacy.

I mentioned this issue to my colleagues a moment ago, and heard of another example. In order to become a member of Lancaster Public Library, one has to show two forms of identity – not passport or driving licence, but both – and a recent letter from one's bank. Dangerous stuff, access to information; we wouldn't want just anyone to have it.


Anyone seriously wanting to launder money will already have other arrangements (fake ID etc). It's like copy protection in software - it clamps down on those that install an additional unauthorised copy on another machine they own but is totally inadequate against professional software pirates.

I had a similar thing with getting a library card in York - I had to show a passport and a recent bank statement or utility bill. Admittedly York library cards also give their holders free or discounted entry into many of the city's museums and attractions, and I suppose it means that if you never return books then they have the means to track you down, but it's still rather draconian.

Posted by Neil T. at March 10, 2008 02:19 PM

Interesting, was that Eurochange? I speak as a former employee, and as AFAIK we differed from the travel agents by not taking every customer's personal details.

As for the issue itself, I can understand to a degree that the government may want to tighten, laundering money through bureaux de change (particularly avoiding chains) is(or was) a risk free way if you knew your limits. However I feel just lowering the money laundering limit a notch or two would have been the sensible approach.

As for the presumption of guilt, remember its not the poor sod behind the counters fault, they are just doing what they are paid to do. Believe me, noone enjoys doing it, it makes a transaction twice as long for starters, and as you imply can usually be traced back to your elected representatives.

As for staff competency, as always depends the quality of fake matched with the quality of staff. All I can say is when its your job, you learn all the tricks, and most of us get bloody good! :-)

Anyway, shouldn't imagine John Ramsden would ask too many questions and he had best rates in town when it was my job to know such things.

Posted by Jan B at March 10, 2008 11:13 PM

No criticism of the counter staff as you said, they don't set policy.
Likewise, I didn't mean to suggest that they aren't competent to recognise fake documents (no less or more so than anyone else, anyway), but that it shouldn't be their role at all.

Posted by NRT at March 11, 2008 10:33 AM

It's a particular nuisance because I can't even go out without thinking if they're going to ask me for ID. So far I have resisted these attempts at social control but there's not a lot more that can be done. At the moment if someone asks me for ID I simply tell them I don't have any. What can be done about this increasingly unpleasant trend? It's all to get us geared up for the database state and it's unhealthy.

Posted by Paul at March 14, 2008 03:24 AM
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