If You Ask Me: A Global Banker Reflects on Our Times

Wriston, Walter B.


Privacy: A Serious Problem


Is privacy a big issue--what with electronic funds transfer, and automated tellers and all?

The issue of privacy is, in my opinion, one of the most pressing issues in the United States today. Justice Brandeis, writing in the Harvard Law Review, once said that the right most valued by civilized man is the right to be let alone. I don't think that's changed. But the way this country is going now, it's the last right that anybody pays attention to.

One problem is that the computer has been confused with privacy. Actually, the computer is more private than the old paper-based files. In the old days, when I worked in a bank branch, you just went up to the credit file and opened the drawer, and looked at anything you wanted to. To get at today's computers you need a special code. That provides immediate, first-line control.

What makes computers ominous for some people is that computer discs have the capability of storing in one place an enormous amount of information. So, it's not the technology itself, but the fact that it is all in one place.

Then there's the question of who should have access to it. I agree that's a crucial point. Just to give you an example, there was a bad Supreme Court decision recently that said that the Internal Revenue Service can come in with a hunting license and browse through your bank records. I think that's wrong.

We adopted the policy that if we get a subpoena, we immediately inform the customer, and I think that's proper. A lot of hunting licenses went out with that court decision. It's a serious problem that everybody should worry about.

  • The document was created from a compilation of interviews and question and answer segments with Walter B. Wriston which was later compiled into "If You Ask Me: A Global Banker Reflects on Our Times" in 1980. The original speech is located in MS134.001.034.00018.
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 Title Page
If You Ask Me: A Global Banker Reflects on Our Times
I: Getting Down to Fundamentals
The Big Cop-out
You Can't Go Bail for Everyone
Risk Is What It's All About
II: Some Basic Ills of the Body Politic
Lincoln Wouldn't Have Made It
Unpredictable Is a Dangerous Country
The Pitfalls of Single-issue Politics
Expect To Get Zapped
The Perils of Legal Pollution
The Injustice of Our Tax System
Those Wonderful People Who Bring You Inflation
Stop the Presses
Silly Premises Lead to Nutty Conclusions
Easier Said Than Done
III: New York, New York
New York City Is Alive And Well
The Road Back
IV: Careers
Rx for Happiness
Good Forward Planning
Dull Job?
A Simple Matter of Survival
Making It at Citibank
What Fast Track?
No Hiding Place
V: Once Around the World Quickly
South Africa
China: A Matter of Timing
The Real Significance of Iran
Iran and the Money Markets
Fashions in Country-criticizing
VI: The Global Financial Scene
The Elusive Eurodollar
De Facto Payments Mechanism
Too Big To Move
The Foreign Exchange Game
They Can't Leave the System
Baskets of Money
Swiss Francs
The Value of a Dollar
Not a Loss Since 1897
A Rational View of LDC Loans
Free Trade Benefits Consumers
The Destructive Costs of Regulation
The Big Rip-off
A Real Entitlement
Can Regulations Prevent Bum Loans?
The Insidious Side of Controls
Competition in Regulation
VIII: The Shape of Things To Come
Not As Big As You Think
What Lobby?
Armageddon Is Late, as Usual
Some Simple Facts about Interest Rates
An Expensive Luxury
How Big Is Big?
What We Did Yesterday Won't Work Tomorrow
A Matter of Semantics
Unpredictable Is a Dangerous Country
Privacy: A Serious Problem
The Unseen Revolution
Things Are Going To Be Different
Take the Handcuffs off Everybody
The Gray Areas of Lending
No Mouse under the Rug
Thank God We Don't Have National Banking
Competition Keeps You Awake
Accounting for Loan Losses
Not a Utility
People Like It
Computer Frauds
Some Final Words on Responsibility
About the Author