French Court Greenlights Government Plans to Trawl Social Media for Tax Evasion

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In October, French Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin said that tax authorities had recovered €5.6 billion ($6.2 billion) in unpaid taxes since January, a 40-percent increase on the €4 billion ($4.4 billion) recovered over the same period in 2018.

France's constitutional court has ruled that the country’s government can go ahead with its push to give the authorities the power to monitor social media for signs of tax avoidance and fraud.

The ruling comes after the French parliament passed a broader bill on tax changes, which specifically stipulates that customs and tax officials are authorised to review users' profiles, posts, and pictures on such sites as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for evidence of tax evasion and undisclosed income.

The bill allows the customs and tax authorities to carry out a three-year “experiment” in monitoring such data.

The court, in turn, admitted in its ruling that although users' privacy and freedom of expression could be compromised under the bill, the document also stipulates that the authorities would only be able to use public information related to the person disclosing it online.

Additionally, regulators should keep a watchful eye on how the information is being used, according to the ruling.

‘One More Tool to Fight Fraud’

Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin said in an earlier interview with the newspaper Le Figaro that the new rules are "one more tool to fight fraud".

“If you say you're not a fiscal resident in France and you keep posting pictures on Instagram from France, there might be an issue”, Darmanin pointed out.

Last year, he told French TV that the tax office “will be able to see that if you have numerous pictures of yourself with a luxury car while you don’t have the means to own one, then maybe your cousin or your girlfriend has lent it to you, or maybe not”.

The National Commission for Data Protection and Liberties (CNIL), France’s data protection watchdog, for its part, urged the government to show “a great deal of prudence” over the plan, which CNIL said raised “unprecedented questions over personal data protection”.

Apparently referring to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, the watchdog argued that the authorities monitoring users’ data could “significantly change individuals’ behaviour online, where they might not feel able to express themselves freely on the platforms in question”.

The French government has recouped an estimated €5.6 billion ($6.2 billion) in unpaid taxes this year, a 40-percent increase compared to same period in 2018, according to Darmanin.

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