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I spy with my beady eye ...

20 Jun 2019

NBlog June 20 - conspicuous consumption

A short article set me thinking this morning about the interplay between rights, compliance, personal freedoms, ethics and culture. The article is about tax authorities picking up on conspicuous consumption by citizens, suggesting that they are 'living beyond their means' - a classic fraud indicator.

Although the article specifically concerns disclosures through social media, that's just one of many ways of voluntarily disclosing information. Furthermore, some disclosures are involuntary: the authorities can demand information from and about us, for example, and we inadvertently or incidentally disclose information about ourselves in the course of living our lives.

The tax authorities have to address tax fraud, of course, using relevant information legitimately obtained from anywhere ... but in this situation the information was not disclosed for that specific purpose. Tax fraudsters would happily prohibit the authorities from accessing and using the information if they could. So is it ethical for the authorities to use it? Hmmm, tricky! 

I would argue that, in choosing to consume so conspicuously and publicly, tax fraudsters have made the information available to third parties and, by implication, third parties are free to use it legitimately. Preventing tax fraud is a legitimate purpose, so that's that.

Even if tax fraudsters explicitly prohibited the authorities from using the information disclosed through social media, I believe the laws about investigating crime take precedence (although I'm not a lawyer). Small print on the fraudsters' Facebook pages or blogs along the lines of "The tax authorities are expressly prohibited from using this information" would also be a bit of a giveaway!

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