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Dedicated to the taxpayers of Britain, and the employees of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), who have to endure the monumental shambles that is HMRC.
Tuesday, 19 February 2008
Big Brother - HMRC's Licence To Bug
Orwell's view of the totalitarian state that monitors our every spoken word, written word and action came closer to reality last week, when our good old friends in HMRC were granted the right to bug our phones and intercept our email if they suspect us of tax fraud.
HMRC, on top of its power to arrest people, can now intercept phone calls, emails and letters, as well as bug residential premises and private vehicles.
HMRC see nothing to be alarmed about, as they calmly state:
"Customs officers have always had these powers because of their criminal investigations into drugs and guns.
Now they will be granted across the board. We could use it purely in tax matters. Tax offences are quite often combined with other forms of criminality."
HMRC promise that all surveillance will be conducted in compliance with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and the Wilson Doctrine (which we know was brazenly flouted with the revelations that police have been bugging protected conversations between suspects, MPs and their lawyers).
HMRC will also be subject to checks by the Office of Surveillance Commissioners and the Interception of Communication Commissioners Office.
Therefore, why should we be worried by this development?
Here's why you need to be very worried:
1 The Wilson doctrine, as already stated, has been breached.
2 HMRC will not need to seek external authorisation for any of its surveillance activities.
3 HMRC has not drawn up any code of conduct for how it will use its "exciting" new powers.
4 In 2005 explicit assurances were given that the merger of the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise would not give rise to an alignment of powers. These assurances have been broken.
5 HMRC will act as judge, jury and executioner. Due process, as required for other aspects of law enforcement by other organs of the state, will not be followed.
6 HMRC is massively incompetent (eg datagate, tax credits etc), they cannot be trusted with such powers.
7 There is no evidence to support the need for extending HMRC's already excessive powers.
Am I alone in finding that thought of HMRC being given such powers to be more than a little worrying?
How can we trust the government, or HMRC, not to misuse these new powers?
I would note that they can bug anyone, on the slightest suspicion of tax fraud/evasion. HMRC will be the judge as to what constitutes reasonable "suspicion".
Given that, under Gordon Brown, HMRC is being used as a tool of the state to impose its political will (eg the erosion of the right to avoid paying tax) there is a very clear and present danger to our liberties with this extension of HMRC powers.
Harry Travers, partner at law firm BCL Burton Copeland, is far from impressed. He is quoted on AccountingWeb:
"It seems clear to me that HMRC used the merger to push for greater powers.
There is no evidence that bugging powers are needed in relation to direct tax fraud, and HMRC did not even attempt to provide any."
I would also remind you that some Customs and Excise prosecutions have collapsed in recent years, due to the abuse by officers of their powers.
The prosecution for Operation Venison, which led to accusations of VAT fraud for five Manchester businessmen three years ago, fell through due to "muddle, incompetence and lack of frankness" said Mr Justice Crane.
Can HMRC be trusted not to misuse these powers?
No, they can't!
Every email, conversation and phone call by anyone can now be listened to by HMRC (ie the state).
This is wrong.
It is now necessary for the public to take a stand against the state, and to ensure that these powers are revoked at the earliest opportunity.
In the short term I recommend that people equip themselves with anti bugging devices, and ensure that their emails are encrypted.
Tax does have to be taxing.
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