In the wake of the tax reforms, (though it is questionable whether the word ‘reform’ is even appropriate in this context), bank secrecy will apparently go by the wayside. Many would probably say that is no reason for concern. “After all, those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear”. But it is also a matter of our right to privacy and protection of the private sphere – the ordinary citizen’s claim to freedom from interference by the state.
We have Maria Theresia to thank for this. She saw the role of the state as ‘administration of society’ rather than, as her Prussian counterpart Friedrich saw it, the ‘organisation of society’. Or, put another way: the common interest comes before individual interest. We in Austria were more progressive and more liberal in that respect – WERE being the operative word!!! And the same proponents of a governing party that moved out only to bring more liberalism back into our government policy, are now discarding such an important asset as the liberal right of personal freedom and protection, which puts essential limits on the power of the state.
Insight demands oversight
By way of reminder, it is already possible to inspect a bank account on suspicion of tax fraud. But in future the investigating authorities will no longer need the permission of an official institution. All cash flows, transactions, deposits and connections will be traceable and transparent. The citizens of this country are fast becoming transparent. Thanks to the ever-increasing digitalisation of the banking sector, movement of even the smallest sum of money can be detected – hence the criticism so often directed at banks: “You know everything about me and you can turn that knowledge to your advantage.”
Precisely, and the abolition of bank secrecy means such information will be open to anyone, not just to any official body but also, theoretically, to any marketing firm – to the Googles and Amazons of this world. Our money will become an algorithm that makes us transparent, our actions predictable and our needs abundantly clear. Do we really want that? And above all, do we want a government that exposes us, as its citizens, to that extent? No.
Freedom is a responsibility and bank secrecy was one of the strongest indicators of the Austrian definition of freedom and self-determination for its citizens. Up until today, that is: 13 March 2015.
“13 March 1848 marked the outbreak of the revolution in Vienna which led to the downfall of State Chancellor Metternich, to freedom of the press and to proclamation of a constitution. The only major piece of legislation was passed on 7 September 1848 abolishing the servitude of peasants. It was the moment when, after more than a millennium, the last vestiges of the feudal state were removed.”