The year was 1917 and the location was Latvia. A poor and mostly agrarian country in Northern Europe’s Baltic region bordered to the north by Estonia and to the south by Lithuania. My grandparents were children at the time. As the saying goes, “timing is everything,” and theirs could not have been much worse. The Bolshevik Revolution began in October of that year starting in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg). It was quickly followed by another civil war – later to be coined the Russian Revolution – and spread throughout the various countries doomed to become possessions of the Soviet Union. It would be bloody and last until 1922. My great-grandfather became a casualty when a local preacher turned him in as a dissident and he was shot. Having personally witnessed this event, my grandfather would flee to the United States, leaving behind a world and relatives he would never see again. He met a woman, also of Latvian heritage, and together they started a new life.
Vladimir Lenin got his wish and rose to prominence, becoming Russia’s most powerful figure. Although Lenin’s post-revolutionary Soviet Union would forge much advancement – most notably education and industrial development – the cost would be enormous. The State was to become godlike. Human rights and the individual spirit were quashed. Citizens feared to even whisper dissent for Siberia, or worse would be a likely sentence. The seeds of the KGB had been sown, and privacy was altogether nonexistent.
History teaches us many lessons if we are only willing to pay attention. Perhaps none as profound and recurring as the importance of protecting an individual’s right to privacy which equates to civil liberties. It is impossible to live in peace and obtain true prosperity without privacy. The tragic events of 9/11/01 changed the landscape of human rights in the United States and throughout the world. If the truth be told, however, personal privacy was under attack long before that day. And while the right to privacy is not completely lost, it should give one pause that history is full of examples wherein these privileges become reduced under the guise of “national security”.
In recent years the same holds true; the inception of the Patriot Act in 2001 gave law enforcement agencies more authority to search the phone, email and financial records of some citizens while wiretaps and searches of suspected homes and businesses were made more accessible. International security measures that have inhibited the civil liberties of citizens include hidden cameras & microphones in public transportation areas like taxis and subway stations as well as roving taps, illegal search & seizures and more.
As recently as 2006, USA Today reported that The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth. The database is currently the largest ever collected, and, while it focuses mostly on international calls, either those ending or originating outside the U.S., it does keep track of domestically placed calls as well.
The struggle to preserve essential human rights is a theme most recently tapped by Hollywood. In 2009, it is paying tribute to those individuals who stood against tyranny with films such as Tom Cruise’s “Valkyrie” or Daniel Craig’s “Defiance”. While it remains to be seen the acclaim these films receive, the mere fact that Hollywood producers have allotted their production dollars to bring these true stories to the big screen further affirms the emotional connection we feel towards human rights and those who guard them.
In no way are we promoting civil disobedience, nor are we attempting to draw a parallel between western society and tyrannical governments of long ago. Yet we do feel it is essential for individual citizens to take common sense steps to protect themselves from the prying eyes of individuals seeking monetary gain or the potential of a government becoming dysfunctional and over-stepping its bounds. The economic events of 2008 and collapse of some of the world’s largest banks re-emphasizes this need. Anyone of substantial wealth should be taking measures to diversify and protect their privacy. It is really not that difficult to find a safe haven from these turbulent times. One of our favorite strategies is to utilize Switzerland and have our clients “take matters into their own hands” through owning their own financial facility. This explains our exuberance and development of the captive Swiss Trust Company concept. It allows for effective planning and extensive control. There are, however, other locations and other strategies that can be implemented. The key is to be proactive.
The lessons to be learned from the past are not ivy tower philosophy or vague political rhetoric but real-world and relevant to current events. We live – as the ancient Chinese saying goes – in interesting times