By Richard Thieme
Back in the good old days of a Spain ruled with an iron fist by General Francisco Franco, everyone who mattered always knew where everybody else always was.
Every means of transportation was watched by two members of the Guardia Civil, the state police known for their three-cornered patent leather hats. On every train, every bus, a pair of the police searched the crowd for “special” faces.
I rode a train one day from Cordoba to Grenada and found myself in a compartment with two Guardia Civil. I had lived in Madrid long enough to carry on a conversation. Nobody else in the compartment spoke.
One of the police suddenly asked if I knew why they must be so vigilant. I shook my head. A moment later, he was sitting next to me, showing me a book he said they studied every night. The book consisted of photographs of heads, shot stabbed crushed or beaten.
“This is what the enemy will do,” he said, “if we do not remain vigilant.”
When I returned to Madrid, the street door to my apartment was locked. Because I was a foreigner, I didn’t have a key. I clapped for the serreno.
The serreno was responsible for several square blocks. He had keys to the outer doors. When my door was locked, I clapped and clapped, the sound of my clapping echoing down the late night street. From wherever he was – usually inside one of the “closed” bars – the serreno came running to open the door.
His real job was to report anyone out of the ordinary to the state police.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation recently proposed a regulation requiring insured nonmember banks to develop and maintain “Know Your Customer” programs. The regulation would require each nonmember bank to develop a program designed to determine the identity of its customers, the sources of their funds, and the normal and expected transactions of its customers. Banks are to report any transactions that look suspicious.
We were always safe on the late night streets of Madrid. The Guardia Civil, who questioned criminal suspects, were always assigned far from home, lest sentiment interfere with their work.
Nor does sentiment interfere with surveillance cameras in city centers, biometric identifiers, or the work of the FDIC. Privacy always dies for good reasons, always in the name of security and safety.
And unlike the serrenos in Franco’s Spain, we don’t even have to tip.