French Tax Officials To Start Digging Through Social Media Posts For Expensive Cars It Thinks You Can't Afford

from the faking-it-til-you-make-it-possibly-a-tax-code-violation dept

In a weird announcement threatening the commencement of pointless government monitoring, a French official says tax cheats will now be outed by their own selfies. (via Reason)

France’s tax administrators will start searching through social media accounts in early 2019, a pilot project in the fight against tax avoidance, Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin told weekly business TV show Capital.


“(The fiscal 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,” Darmanin said.

I guess French tax collectors will be scrolling through social media profiles with lists of tax dodgers and a keen appraiser’s eye. There may be several reasons people have expensive items showcased on social media, and not all of them will have anything to do with ill-gotten net gains. A very common internet pastime is presenting your life as more exciting, dynamic, and filled with material goods than it actually is. Photoshop may be involved. Some of what tax officials come across will be evidence of nothing more than self-esteem issues.

However, this statement may not actually reflect what French tax officials have in mind. This may just be an inelegant (and partially inaccurate) depiction of the program being put in place. It appears this social media monitoring will follow the UK’s lead, which doesn’t have much to do with scanning social media posts for inexplicable luxury cars. If the French are on the UK Plan, as this article suggests, auditors will bury themselves in mountains of data and hope the algorithm sorts the cheats from the dreamers.

Here’s what Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs [HMRC] is doing to track down tax fraudsters:

Tax authorities plan to increase the amount of data Her Majesty Revenue and Customs (HMRC) hold and can analyze. They’ve done this by extending their legal right to gather data from merchant service providers and data aggregators, including those that are based outside of the UK. This is a crucial step, as many Tax Avoidance schemes use businesses and trusts based overseas. They also now have the power to hold an online market place liable if a trader sells goods in the UK without paying tax on it.

Secondly, there will be data gathering and monitoring of certain high-risk groups. These include previous tax evasion and avoidance offenders, who will have data gathered on them for several years after they are convicted. Certain affluent individuals will also be monitored as they have been identified as a high-risk group because those with overseas business assets or connections are at a greater risk of offending.

The monitoring includes social media, but it’s only a small part of the data haul.

The UK’s HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) will “observe, monitor, record and retain internet data” which is available to everyone, including blogs and social networking sites where no privacy settings have been applied, it has specifically confirmed in an update to its guidance on criminal investigations for tax offences.

Having a public account means the public — and the government — can see everything you post. That includes stuff it may try to use against you — in this case, expensive items the government feels you can’t afford.

And, lest we think we’re any better than our European counterparts, the IRS has been doing the same thing in the States for years. And it’s possibly been breaking the law the whole time.

The Internal Revenue Service is breaking several laws by mining large data sets and combing through social media posts in its search for people to audit, a Washington State University professor says.

Kimberly Houser, a clinical assistant professor of business law, in WSU’s Carson College of Business, said the IRS is breaking federal privacy law that says citizens should be:

– Informed when the government is collecting data on them.

– Given the chance to review and correct the information.

Such policies are required by the fair information practices incorporated into the Privacy Act of 1974.

The ACLU also argues the IRS’s collection of communications violates the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and skirts warrant requirements. The IRS has agreed to stop gathering emails but made no promises about text messages and social media posts.

Of course, the IRS doesn’t need a warrant to collect publicly-viewable posts. Text messages, however, definitely aren’t public. But it isn’t really clear the IRS is collecting these without a warrant. The IRS does have Stingray devices capable of intercepting text messages, but if it has done so, nothing about this use of cell tower spoofers has made it into the public domain. More likely, the IRS has interpreted the ECPA “abandonment” rule — which allows the government to collect email older than 180 days without a warrant (treating it as abandoned physical mail) — to cover text messages and social media posts.

Basically, what the French government is threatening to do is something several other governments already do. It’s just that none have announced it quite this badly. Trawling social media posts for inexplicable wealth may trap a few tax cheats, but it’s far more likely to produce false positives and piles of mostly-useless data for investigators to dig through.

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Comments on “French Tax Officials To Start Digging Through Social Media Posts For Expensive Cars It Thinks You Can't Afford”

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Wanda Somtime says:

So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

Is there ANY bit of traditional Democrat / Socialist views that you kids actually support? Any SLIGHT memory of Populist views remaining? Because EVERY article, you put out exactly the views that corporatists / plutocrats / and even Republicans do!

Bet Ocasio-Cortez and I agree on this with: SO WHAT? We’re not for tax cheats.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

Its not rare.. just delve into washington, dc and the political scene. There it is hard not to see them touting something they would have the entire world believing they have such a great understanding of, they expect the public to trust them that they have everything well in hand.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

Amazingly, plutocrats don’t need to worry about this kind of thing, since there is basically nothing they could post on Facebook which they cannot afford. In fact, the likelihood that a picture of something on Facebook would be flagged as un-affordable is inversely proportional to your wealth, making this quite favorable to the rich, and quite unfavorable to the poor.

Nice try though.

Wanda Somtime says:

Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

Amazingly, plutocrats don’t need to worry about this kind of thing, since there is basically nothing they could post on Facebook which they cannot afford.

Really? Are you familiar with current story of Ghosn executive for Nissan, believe, fired recently for HIDING perhaps a HUNDRED MILLION OF stolen income?

Or are you defining "plutocrats" as over 100 million bucks?

Wanda Somtime says:

Re: Re: Re:2 So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

I can find no evidence

Oh, therefore I’m wrong. Gotcha.

He was FOUND OUT. Why are you against other OBVIOUS ways tax collectors can learn of ill-gotten income? The only conclusion is that you are FOR tax cheats, the subject line of my comment, which you fail to answer.

What I now have evidence of is some "AC" hitting refresh often AND highly intent on merely contradicting reasonable dissent here so APPEARS that has been answered. — And of course it’s one of the regular fanboys OR a re-writer.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

Why are you against other OBVIOUS ways tax collectors can learn of ill-gotten income?

Because the proposed method disproportionately targets the poor whereas most damage from tax fraud is done by the rich, and further expands government surveillance power without any evidence that said increase would even be capable of producing the desired social benefit.

Wanda Somtime says:

Re: Re: Re:2 So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

So no, just some dude who stole 100m is not a plutocrat, unless he is one by other history.


I’ve always said Techdirt is a target-rich environment for anyone reasonable to get laughs at silly notions of site and commenters, but I admit didn’t know that here are Rich Targets who scoff at a mere $100 million, besides blithely ignore that it was STOLEN — truly the attitude of the born rich.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

So, since no one else has explained this for you, and you don’t understand why commentators are upset, here is my weekly explanation of this concept: being against a specific policy proposal does not mean you are against the objectives of the policy.

The specific tax enforcement policy is unlikely to catch ‘millionaire tax cheats’. This policy would affect low and middle income taxpayers – the types most likely to have a photo of a car they ‘can’t afford’ in their profile. If you are a millionaire, it is unlikely there is a car you would have parked at your house that you couldn’t afford.

However, this will lead to significant enforcement efforts around gangnam style activity (the song was about areas of Korea where the ‘image’ of a lifestyle was more important than it’s substance, to the point of putting yourself in ruinous debt). Is that classic car which looks expensive actually worth that much? Maybe you’ve been rebuilding it for 20 years. Maybe it doesn’t work, and you’ve just been restoring the body. And the illegal tax avoidance activity they do find might be of little monetary value compared to the investigation. This wastes enforcement effort, lowering the value of enforcement. And it comes at a cost of the productivity of Low and middle class workers who have to defend themselves against valueless allegations based on internet selfies. Its a bad policy.

I am not for millionaire tax cheats. Millionaire tax cheats aren’t found out by Facebook selfies.

Not that it matters. You’ll find some quote you can strip of context and claim victory with your ridiculous strawman.

ryuugami says:

Re: Re: So now you're for millionaire tax cheats.

Millionaire tax cheats aren’t found out by Facebook selfies.

You say that now, but once the IRS nails Elan Musk for tax evasion because they saw him post a selfie with a BFR ("You obviously can’t afford that giant rocket"), I’m sure you’ll change your mind.


Wanda Somtime says:

Re: Oh-oh! Here's a Populist!

I eagerly await news of those in high political office being subjected to the horrors of the governmental taxation system which they have created.

Or pretending with first silliness that popped into head.

Look. The tax system is either going to favor YOU or The Rich. Always been so, for last three thousand years. Let’s aim the tax collectors at that who gain money most easily and who won’t be much deprived if take away even 99% of it. No one deserves ridiculous incomes, aren’t that valuable to society. Even Rush Limbaugh agrees with that principle. Let’s just draw the line against The Rich who are using tax systems and every other advantage in the class war they start and maintain upon the poor.

Anonymous Coward says:

propaganda and tradecraft

Whenever governments are actually spying on people, they will never admit it. Whenever governments announce that they plan to start spying on people, it’s a bluff designed to scare and intimidate.

That announcement alone could create a bounty of tax revenues for the French government, without any of the substantial costs of performing investigative work.

I.T. Guy says:

I used to drive by this house with a big new Dodge truck and a nice trailer behind it, 2 Harley’s parked on the lawn, corvette shoehorned behind the truck and trailer. It was an 800 sq ft single on .3 acre.

When we looked at houses I tried to buy a 1000 sq ft house with a detached 3 car over-sized garage and apartment on top. It was bigger than the house. Wife told me if I did I would be living in that apartment.

L'etat C'est Moi Dept says:

Le French Tax Twinks

Well, I have difficulty feeling sorry for the idiots who post their lives to social media, especially those who have some need to put a spin on their lifestyles. If you are dumb enough to post your life for the public to read, not to mention spin it to impress people, you got what you asked for, even if it isn’t what you wanted.

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