French authorities given green light to search social media for evidence of tax evasion
In December 2019, the government enacted laws to allow the tax authority to conduct a three-year project to collect online information as part of a tax-enforcement drive. Possible lines of enquiry, described by budget minister Gérald Darmanin, would be to check on people who regularly post photos taken in France while claiming not to be French tax residents, or to compare photographs of an individual's car with their declared income. Another would be to monitor purchases on trading sites such as eBay or, the equivalent French site, Le Bon Coin.
The measure drew opposition from civil rights and privacy groups, who reported it to the country's data protection supervisor, the National Commission for Data Protection and Liberties (Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés CNIL). The new law was duly challenged in the Court.
The Court has now declared that the surveillance project can go ahead, but with restrictions. The authorities must not attempt to gain access to password-protected content. Moreover, in an investigation of a taxpayer, they will only be able to use information published by that taxpayer, not by a third party.
The Court also insisted that CNIL should carefully monitor how the information was being used, and conduct a review of the new powers at the end of the three-year trial.
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