Collecting: Our right to information ...

Another issue has come up with the database: about what information should be held about collectors, which worries law enforcement personnel. My attitude is that with a few notable exceptions - such as Lewis, whom the Federal Government currently accuse of being involved in a ring smuggling Egyptian antiquities into the US - most collectors are not the ones we should be going after when it comes to looting.
People helping with my database of looted archaeological material have helped identify a number of Roman heads which they believe were excavated in Libya and smuggled out in recent years. We're working to have them returned, and we have credible information suggesting we can identify the people that bought most of them. All are co-operating and would like to see the issues resolved (okay, all but one - his email auto-reply says he's on holiday, but I'm optimistic and feel he'll do the right thing ...).
Collectors mostly don't want to be identified, and I don't see why they should be. The dealers produced paperwork to back up their fake provenances, naïve buyers were duped. The collectors are as much victims in this, embarrassed, and don't need to be further harassed. Collectors also tend not to want to be identified so that thieves don't target them. (Others collect for the 'kudos' and social 'prestige' it buys them, but they are another kettle of fish).
The worst the collectors can be accused of is failing to do more due diligence by hiring someone who knew what they were doing to confirm the authenticity of the heads - one turned out to be a good fake - and their histories. A decent academic can find old publications of sculptures in minutes - but then again too many academics aren't that good. In addition we've reached an impasse where most scholars won't have anything to do with the art world because of a few colleagues with views anti-collecting throwing mud and trying to intimidate people.
What I am interested in are the names of the dealers through whom the heads passed, and who faked ridiculously similar "collecting histories" to serve as provenances. It may well be that the dealers were also duped, but they do this for a living and should have known better than the collectors. My concern is that many of the "hoards" of looted material I've tracked recently, whether of coin, portrait heads, or other material, seem to pass through the same few dealers in Munich and Geneva. They may well be innocent, but ... It could be just statistically probable that since they sell so many items, a few will turn out to be dodgy. Or it could be that they are channelling a lot of looted archaeological material, and the items we're catching are the tip of the iceberg.
By its very nature a 'black market' tends to be hidden so can be hard to quantify. More art is sold legally and privately through dealers than at auction, but just because items are not publicly advertised as "for sale" - and often they are, on web sites and in catalogues - does not mean that there is anything suspicious going on. When items come up at auction they do so publicly, in catalogues available to all who wish to view them, so auctions should make it less likely these days that a dealer is attempting to "launder" a looted object.
Anonymity of collectors can be used to make them sound dodgy ... But if one turns it the other way around, I'm also finding that archaeologists want to report looted antiquities but are not always so keen to be seen to do so publicly.
Some archaeologists either don't want to upset officials in a source country by advertising that they are reporting items missing because of corruption; or they don't want to potentially harm their future employment prospects by upsetting an institution by reporting that it has bought looted antiquities ... Whether their fears are fully justified or not, my feeling is that I am happy to honour their requests for anonymity as long as we have faith in them. We won't take an email sent from a 'Joe Bloggs' pseudonymous account seriously without evidence to back it up, but we're happy to assign XXX of the XXX in XXX a random Identification Number as the reporter of looted material, as long as we know who he is.
There's an interesting debate going on right now about the right to information, and whether academic journals available via sites such as JSTOR should be accessible to all. Sometimes ... We don't need to make everything publicly available, and when it comes to looting I feel it's better to keep the information simple: this is the item missing, and xxx country would like it back.

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