French authorities are readying to begin targeting individuals in a digital capacity in their attempt to cut down on rampant tax avoidance practices. Almost a year after the French government announced plans to “name and shame people” guilty of the worst cases of tax fraud as part of a broader crackdown on national tax evasion, the country’s tax administrators have announced that they will start looking to individuals’ social media content in early 2019 in order to identify potential cases of tax evasion.
France’s Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin stated this week in an interview with Capital, a French business television program, that to identify potential instances of tax fraud, authorities will be entitled to look to social media. The country’s financial administration “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,” Mr. Darmanin stated.
“The idea is to identify potential frauds by analyzing publicly-available data on individuals’ social media accounts.”
The impending social media-focused efforts described by Darmanin are in line, he says, with a tax law enacted in October by the French Parliament. The new legislation – which was initially introduced in March 2018 – is “designed to strengthen authorities’ capacities to fight tax fraud and permit a wider use of online data to bolster fiscal controls,” according to Reuters.
In addition to increasing the penalties for tax evasion in France (which maintains strict privacy protections), including upping the maximum penalty to two times the proceeds resulting from the fraud, the bill will establish a new "fiscal police" within the Budget Ministry, which will work with members of the Interior Ministry in the investigation of tax evasion cases. The bill is expected to “result in an increased number of tax fraud criminal prosecutions,” according to global law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLP – at least some of which, it seems, will be based on evidence found on social media.
The new legislation comes amidst broader legal and policy-centric discussions about law enforcement usage of social media to monitor and track civilians.