French government proposes social media monitoring for tax fraud

The French government is considering allowing authorities to monitor the social media accounts of French taxpayers to root out possible fraud, news wires reported. In addition to watching what people flaunt on sites such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, authorities will keep an eye on purchases on sites such as eBay and the French equivalent, Le Bon Coin.

The French parliament is set to debate a proposal to allow the tax office's computer system to collect information from social media networks for a trial period of three years. The aim is to identify people whose lifestyles, as evidenced by their postings on social media, are incongruous with their declared incomes.

The proposal has caused concern for the country's data protection watchdog group, the National Commission for Data Protection and Liberties (CNIL). If enacted, it could infringe on freedom of thought and expression, according to a warning the CNIL issued last month. The government must provide “strong guarantees” and “rigorous evaluation”, the CNIL cautioned, adding that the massive collection of data could have a significant impact on people's personal lives.

Tax evasion cost the French government an estimated €80bn to €100bn in 2017, up from €60bn to €80bn in 2013, according to Solidaires Finances Publiques, the largest union representing France's tax authorities. A similar programme is in use in the UK. Connect, the programme run there by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), has generated several billion pounds in additional tax revenue since its inauguration in 2008.

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