Monday, April 08, 2013

Those Threatening French:

I present to you an anecdote about an accusation that was outrageous on its face, almost laughable, that seems to have come true.

In 1998, I worked for a consortium of rich people who wished to develop accounting software that was capable of tracking the values and assets of unusual kinds of capital. One of the things we did was to develop concise descriptions of how private banks for rich clients actually worked. One of our banks was a Swiss bank. I had several discussions with the bank’s two owners.

You cannot imagine how upset they were when they discovered that we were going to send a team of French Systems Analysts to learn and document their procedures. One of the owners explained to us that anything the Frenchies learned about their bank would inevitably be passed on to the French government. Here’s how they said it would work: the government of France would find some trumped up, terrifying charges to bring against our analysts. They would be blackmailed into spilling proprietary information about the Swiss operation to avoid going to jail for a long time.

“They could even make the French analysts steal information from us!” The Swiss bank owners insisted that the French routinely did that sort of thing.

We were sure that no such government blackmail would ever happen. But we treaded carefully in this case, nominating a team of people to study the Swiss bank that its owners found acceptable.

Now perhaps you have heard that the French military told Wikipedia to delete an article that has been on their site since 2009, an article that appears to contain publicly available information. The Wikipedia people asked the Direction Centrale du Renseignement Interieur what, specifically needed to be removed. They got no response, so they left the article up. (And of course, the article has now experienced the Barbra Streisand Effect.)

The French have arrested (I’m now quoting the fine writer Cory Doctorow from his detailed explanation at BoingBoing) “a random volunteer Wikipedia admin living in France -- a person who had never had anything to do with the post in question -- and threatened him with jail unless he used his admin privileges to delete the post.”

I must apologize to those Swiss bank owners for being – I thought – so paranoid.

This morning I weighed 218.8 pounds. I need to get back to 215 (my diet began at 225). I'm concerned right now that my appetite is not adequately under control.

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