Tuesday, February 2, 2010

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: German Edition

Check this out, courtesy the BBC:

Germany will buy 'tax evaders' list if real
The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, says she will buy a list of alleged tax avoiders said to be hiding money in Switzerland - if it is a genuine one.
Up to 1,500 Germans are alleged to have stashed millions of dollars in secret bank accounts across the border.

The Financial Times Deutschland reported that the data was being offered by an IT specialist who once worked at HSBC in Geneva.

He is said to be asking $3.5m (£2.1m) for the list of names.

Some estimate it could net the German government $100m.

However, the Swiss finance ministry said it had refused to grant Germany any assistance in connection with the document, saying it was based on stolen information.

Big names

"Everything should be done to get this data," Mrs Merkel told a news conference in Berlin, as long as the information was "relevant".

Two years ago, Germany paid $7m for a similar list of German citizens who had money in Liechtenstein, a country that was known as a tax haven...

This may seem like a good idea. And short term, who knows, it might "benefit" the German Treasury. But let's think about the consequences.

Germany pays for these stolen names, just as they did for a similar list out of Lichtenstein awhile back. They get to squeeze some Germans who wanted to hide some money and get a one-time tax windfall.

In doing so, our Teutonic friends are helping legitimize hackers and information theft for profit. Every code jockey who has harbored dreams of getting rich off hacking now has real numbers to work with. Please note, it looks like this is not some black hat guy who hacked into the bank computers, but an internal techie - the run of the mill tech specialist with a certain amount of skill, sure, but no one who can crash into a well-defended system. This looks like a "company man" gone rogue. That is a big steaming bowl of not good for any multinational corpie to worry about.

The Germans are in a way legitimizing the nightmare scenarios for IT security professionals. Things like:

  • Internal code jockeys stealing the flow rates from Mexican oil wells and selling them to the drug cartels so they know which pipelines to either bomb, threaten to bomb (unless cash is paid to them by PEMEX) or to tap into and bunker the oil from.
  • Hackers or insiders getting ahold of coal train car schedules and selling them to eco-terrorists interested in disrupting the coal supply to power plants.
  • Bank programmers who parse through the wire transfers and locate the rather blatant flows of drug money into the Western banking system and threaten to go to the DEA with the data - unless they get a cut.

Today it is a Swiss IT guy who stole some names and sold them to a government. What about tomorrow, when it is an IT guy working for the German Government who hacks in and sells information about asylum seekers who relocated to Germany to "interested" governments? Or the "non-profits" like the Gary McKinnons of the world who hack into databases looking for evidence of UFOs or black ops budget items or a whole host of other special interest information strong-arm artists who just want to set data free?

Germany runs a big risk here. As we move into years of anger towards central authority, Germany, among many other "developed" nations, are going to reap the whirlwind of this kind of behavior. They feel like they want the information, so they go get it. Others may feel the same about German government secrets and go after those as well.

Trust in privacy and information secrecy will be shattered across the globe, just as socionomics predicts.


Benh said...

Wow, great post!

David said...

Yeah, and U.S. presidents (and V.P.'s) order the murder of suspected "toor-wrists" and the treatment of goat-herders to sensory deprivation, extremes of heat/cold, shackling in stress positions, etc., in order to feed their political theater for the next election (have to appear tough on terrorism, don't 'cha know!).

The German chancellor is just doing what rulers modern and ancient do and did, adhering to the belief that "if I do it, it's not a crime."

Lord Acton was right, of course. If you want to meet a corrupt person, shake hands with anyone who has political power.