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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The vibe of it

On Saturday evening I checked into a hotel in Odense in Denmark. The Danes are fairly relaxed, and I was not asked to produce my passport as I might be in some European countries. They did ask me for “something with my name on it”. I handed them my “Barclaycard Premiership Mastercard” (ie a credit card with English soccer logos on it) and my English driver’s licence. I did not show them my passport (it was in the car) and I did not mention my nationality.

However, the next day I got my receipt and it had “Michael John Jennings. Australia”. written on the top.

I am intrigued as to how they figured this out. It is true that my licence does have the endorsement “70AUS” amongst the fine print on the back, indicating that I did not ever have an English driving test, but was issued an English licence on the basis of having an Australian one already. However, I did not see the hotel clerk study the fine print on the back of my licence, and I would have been impressed had he known what that endorsement means.

Perhaps it was my accent? However, I have lived in England for nine of the last thirteen years, and English and Australians often cannot figure out my accent. (Often they can, too, but mistakes are often made). The Danes are excellent linguists, but I didn’t realise they were that good.

Or perhaps Australians just give off some vibe. Perhaps it is one that annoys British immigration officials, makes the French like us, and is instantly visible to Danish hotel clerks. Who knows?

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17 comments to The vibe of it

  • Johnathan

    Michael, it was the look of pain on your face. No true Aussie can hide the pain of how close you Okkers came to stealing the Ashes from under our noses at Nottingham yesterday. One more match to go!

    Of course, there is probably a more bureaucratic explanation.

  • J

    Can’t you get address (and therefore nationality) from the credit card company?

  • Quite possibly. But I live in Britain and it is a British credit card.

  • Well we (well our kleptocratic masters anyway) here in Denmark are the masters of being Big Brother with a smile.

  • Was it the corked hat and crocodile under your arm?

  • Michael, I know it’s sacrilege to say this amongst libertarians, libertoids, and assorted Randians, but as between government and private sector data mining, the bigger threat to your personal freedom is probably the private sector. The government is limited by budgetary and logistical constraints – you can only have so many government employees, and they are not always motivated and driven to do a good job with data mining. On the other hand, there’s a lot of money in the private sector for good quality, accurate, highly complete data profiles of individuals. And when the government gets around to it, it will quit messing about with public sector efforts, and simply buy data from the private sector aggregators. Plus, there’s no real regulation of private sector data mining, whereas the government’s efforts (at least here in the ‘States) are subject to a variety of legal and political constraints.

  • Verity

    Aw, Tim Newman – you beat me to it!

  • Passerby

    Why don’t you tell your English-speaking readers just how to pronounce “Odense?”


  • guy herbert

    Al Maviva,

    Plus, there’s no real regulation of private sector data mining, whereas the government’s efforts (at least here in the ‘States) are subject to a variety of legal and political constraints.

    Quite the reverse on this side of the pond, I assure you.

    Commercial interests may be an indirect threat to our privacy, but that’s inadvertent. They have quite strong interests in preserving the confidentiality of data if they think it valuable, and save where competition largely depends on freedom, they are neutral about it.

    Government on the other hand only destroys our privacy in order to use information to control us. Freedom is its direct enemy, destruction of privacy just collateral damage.

  • Perhaps it was the 60 beers you personally consumed in the bar later that night, while roaring out all the verses of “Waltzing Matilda” at the top of your lungs…?

  • John Steele

    Or maybe that big d*mn knife sticking out of your belt? “That’s not a knife, THIS is a knife.”

  • RAB

    I think it’s more likely to be your driving licence that gave you away.
    If I remember rightly, from my time in the Crown Court, and handling licences from appealing speedsters and the like, on a daily basis. Well all that code stuff on your licence will tell those taught to read it all sorts of things.Your date of birth certainly, and probably your country of origin.
    National ID cards anyone! In limited form they’ve been round for yonks!

  • madne0

    Maybe the clerk is a Samizdata reader? Stranger things have happened…;)

  • Fred Z

    DuToit, a crummy 60 beers would make him a lily livered Texan. An Aussie wrote ’99 bottles of beer on the wall’ to describe an Aussie lunch; or an old time Albertan breakfast, with flapjacks, and rye whisky.

  • Jacob

    It is very simple. Either you stayed at this hotel before and appear in their data base, or, more probable, stayed at some other hotel belonging to or affiliated to the same international hotel chain. Or, you booked a room sometime in the past from a reservation service, and the hotel has accesss to that data base.

    Or maybe you paid with a credit card, and they got the info from them when they asked for confirmation.
    Or, they Googled you.

    There is no privacy in our IT age.

  • Jacob: You are probably right. The hotel in question belonged to the Scandic chain, which has at least some kind of affiliation with Hilton. So, yes, it is quite likely, I suppose. Still, I don’t usually give my nationality when making reservations. (I suppose one only has to do so once to get it into their database though).

  • Probably your accent. Most Europeans can tell the Australian accent quite easily.