All Vespuccian citizens have the right to keep their biometric information (their photographs, fingerprints, retina prints, etc.) strictly apart from their financial information (their assets, debts, account numbers, etc.). A Vespuccian driver's license has a photograph of its owner, an inscription certifying "this person is licensed to drive any automobile under such-and-such a weight", and all the other usual accoutrements of driver's licenses -- but no name. A Vespuccian can open a bank account anywhere in the country without providing any kind of identification, using any name that he or she wishes. (Indeed, ever since the Vespuccians discovered the cryptographic algorithms for "digital cash", any citizen with a PC can form his or her own bank.) Vespuccian passports do have both photographs and names, but only because other countries refused to accept anonymous passports. In practice, those passports have whimsical names and improbable birthdays.
Even when ignorant of its citizens' lives, the Vespuccian government manages to collect money from them. Its chief sources of revenue are the property tax, the weight tax, and the heat tax. All of these taxes are tied to parcels of real estate, and charged to the property's owner of record. Interest on late payments is stiff, and delinquent property is seized without mercy. The property tax works much like it does in any other country: even when a house's purchaser of record is a bank-account number, the price must be recorded with the government in order for the sale to be valid. Factories, warehouses, and retail stores have to record the weight of all goods they bring in for processing or sale, and pay an excise tax on the weight. The heat tax is based on the temperature of the waste water coming out of a building, and on satellite images showing the temperature of the surrounding air.
Both a progressive income tax and a traditional welfare system are impossible on Vespucci Island. There is no way to tell, by inspecting a bank's records, the difference between five poor depositors and one rich depsitor using five aliases. However, the government does pay a monthly stipend, sufficient for food and shelter, to every citizen who wants one. On the first day of the month, you can show up at your local Welfare Office and have your picture taken. If the picture does not match any file photographs of foreign visitors, or of people who have visited the Welfare Office earlier on the same day, then you can receive your stipend as cash, or as a check made out to the name of your choice. At the end of the day, the file of photographs used to prevent double-dipping is erased.
The Vespuccians' adoption of digital cash has created a few challenges for its law-enforcement officials. In one famous case, a kidnapper posted his PGP public key on the Internet, and demanded that the ransom money be posted, as digital cash, encrypted with that key. Since anybody on the Net could read the message, but only the kidnapper had the secret key that would decrypt it, there was no way to trace where the money went. However, the detective on the case posted his own public key, and announced that whoever supplied the kidnapper's location would be handsomely and untraceably rewarded. To this day, not even the police know who submitted the detailed map of the kidnappers' hideout and the meticulous report of their daily schedule.
As various money-laundering interests sought alternatives to Switzerland and the Caymans, some alighted on Vespucci Island, and the attention of larger countries' governments followed them. After acrimonious debate, the legislature made an exception to its privacy laws: Any foreigner bringing currency onto Vespuccian territory, or purchasing it with Vespuccian money at the central bank, would have his or her picture posted on the government's Web site. This was not quite what Interpol had wanted, but it was enough to satisfy them.
Seth Gordon / email@example.com / 22 September 2001 / comments?