Don’t think you’re safe because no one could possibly consider you a
terrorist. The new law that caused such a furore last week will stretch to
allowing the taxman to eavesdrop too.
As the commissioner in charge of bugging says in a new code of practice,
interfering with your telephone calls or emails is allowable ‘for the purpose of
assessing or collecting any tax, duty, levy or other imposition, contribution or
charge payable to a government department’.
Tax inspectors everywhere may be feeling their heart rate quicken at the
prospect of going all MI5 with self assessment, but personally, I’m feeling the
fear because I can’t see where the constraints might be.
There are two ways of approaching the issue. There’s a civil rights stance
which says all bugging is objectionable. Then there’s the position which says,
‘OK, what are the safeguards?’
On the first point, the unrestrained spread of the surveillance state has got
to be a worry. On the second, I’m downright terrified.
I can’t see how HMRC goes through any external checks before a bugging
exercise goes ahead. Granted it should be on suspicion of a serious crime, but
surely HMRC can’t be the only judge of that? How do you ensure that the
intercepts for exceptional circumstances don’t turn into applications for
Judgment on these things by people very close to the subject inevitably
slips. Familiarity breeds contempt for the checks and balances.
Right now, that feels like the real danger and one that should be setting off
alarms across the business community. Anyone with remotely complex tax affairs
could be forgiven for a feeling a sense of anxiety at what the future might
Gavin Hinks is editor of Accountancy Age
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