French tax office trials social media checks to detect fraud

A new measure means authorities can check posts on social media sites and online sales platforms to verify people are not cheating the system

3 March 2021
By Joanna York

French tax authorities will now be able to use data published online to cross-check tax declarations.

This includes text, images, videos and photos published on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as online sales platforms including Leboncoin, Vinted and Ebay.

The new measure is being introduced on a trial basis, for three years.

Stéphanie Riou-Bernard, lawyer and specialist in tax law at CMS Francis Lefebvre Avocats, told newspaper Le Monde that the measure had been introduced to target three objectives. 

She said: “[These are] detecting ‘fake’ fiscal residences overseas, finding hidden commercial activity - including black market goods such as tobacco, alcohol and drugs - and sales of counterfeit goods.”

Only self-published data to be used

Rules in place since 2017 have meant that French tax authorities could use an automated tool to mine online data, and identify individuals to target for tax checks.

But authorities could only use data from their own files (such as bank statements, capital bonds and life insurance, and information available on national databases) or other French and overseas administrative bodies to cross check information during their investigations.

Now they will be able to use information from social media and online sales platforms too - but with some restrictions. 

The tax office will only be able to use freely available data, meaning information that has been published online by internet users.

It will not be able to use online information that can be accessed by setting up a profile or gaining access to a password.

Ms Riou-Bernard said: “The tax authorities cannot use comments posted by other internet users or use pseudo profiles to infiltrate into group discussions in order to collect data.”

Sensitive data to be deleted 

According to the new measures, only some online data can be stored by tax authorities. 

Data collected that is considered sensitive – including racial or ethnic origin, political, religious, union affiliation, or sexual orientation – will be deleted within five days of being collected, as will data collected that does not relate directly to the specified offences.

Data relevant to tax office investigations can be kept for a maximum of one year, or until investigations involving the data are complete.

Any other data will be deleted within 30 days of being collected.

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