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Guilty until proven innocent

I was traveling in Beijing two years ago and needed some cash.  I went into a branch office of a local bank in a morning and fed my PNC bank debit card to the ATM machine.  The machine “took” it and did not “spit out” any cash or my debit card.

My return flight to the US was scheduled in the afternoon, so I needed to get my debit card back – quickly.  Lucky for me the office did have clerks that were quite familiar this kind of issue and it was normally called that the ATM machine has “eaten” the card.  All I needed was to provide proof of my identity that matches the information on the debit card and then I could get my card back.

I took out my US driver license, my other bank cards, even my employment card.  Nothing worked.  The clerk who was assisting me, even though was quite polite, insisted on seeing my passport.  Unlucky for me, I didn’t have it on me at that time.  No matter how I plead and explained that all the cards I provided should adequately prove my identity.  Nope, they were just not enough.

Understandably, I was extremely frustrated.  First of all, the bank “took” my card without any warning, nor did it provide any legitimate reason why it did so, even though the same card was used repeatedly at the ATMs of Bank of China.  Secondly, the whole negotiation process made me feel as if I was a criminal even though I did nothing wrong on my part (actually the bank should have apologized to me for all the inconvenience)!

Needless to say, in a rush I went back to where I stayed and returned to the bank with my passport.  I got my debit card back in the end, but the whole process made me wonder: how come I was treated as someone guilty until I had to prove my innocence, even though it was not my fault to begin with?  Has anyone thought about the social cost of this kind of social behavior, especially when it is considered the norm to the entire society?  Once trust is missing in a society, the only thing left to guard order is to treat everyone as potential criminals.  It is just stupidly expensive to manage a society this way.  But how did we get here to begin with and is it reversible at all?

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