Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Public Hearing That Wasn't Public

The cover of the first British edition of 1984, a novel by George Orwell.
I'm just a little creeped
out by what's going on.
Over on her blog, Victoria Ferauge has an interesting account of her attendance at an EU Parliamentary meeting on FATCA. The meeting's exciting title was:

The fight against tax evasion - FATCA as a 
step towards international automatic 
exchange of information?

And it was described as a public hearing. I heard about it on short notice and wasn't able to attend, but Victoria and others around Europe took the trouble to head to Brussels to ensure their voices would be heard. The meeting was public, but you weren't allowed in the building.

Here's how Victoria described it:
When we presented ourselves at the front desk of the Altiero Spinelli building they said we couldn't go in because we had to be "invited." When I replied that it was a public meeting, they told me that the meeting was public but getting into the building required that someone vouch for us.
Evidently this meeting was held at the Ministry of Truth, though I suspect this is more bureaucratic incompetence than something Winston Smith would need to explain away (if you missed that, it's a reference to 1984, a book I highly recommend, though I still think Brave New World more accurately describes the world today).

That being said, Victoria and the others managed to contact MEP Sophie in 't Veld's office and her staff got the problem sorted out by sending people down to escort the group. Victoria's brief description of the meeting sounds like it didn't go as well as one might hope (though she promises to write more later).

Seeing the title of the meeting, noting the speakers, and reading what others had to say, it appears that this "hearing" was one in name only. I suspect it was merely a necessary formality and many of the major players have already made up their minds. What we may be witnessing is the birth of a global system of inter-governmental sharing of information about the whereabouts and finances of their citizens. Somehow, I don't feel terribly comfortable with this idea and I feel like a conspiracy nut for even saying this, but the US government is finding that other countries aren't agreeing to FATCA unless it's packaged as a reciprocal exchange of information. Read that title again:

The fight against tax evasion - FATCA as a 
step towards international automatic 
exchange of information?

Yeah, this gives me the creeps.

For those coming late to the party, here's my original writeup on FATCA. It's pretty damned scary.