The Coalition Government’s controversial Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill (DRIP), due to be rushed through Parliament and the Lords early next week, is stoking controversy in many industries due to the vague wording of the Bill, which many claim will be easily abused. DRIP allows access to communications “metadata” – for example the Government cannot snoop on an actual phone call, but it can find out when a call was placed, from where, and to whom. Similarly, the authorities can find out if two individuals exchanged emails, and when they were sent.

The Bill, which appears to have support from all three major parties, has drawn further ire after the Government’s claim that it does not expand current surveillance powers – however analysis of the Bill itself would seem to indicate otherwise. Human Rights group Liberty issued the following statement:

“The Government says it’s only plugging loopholes but its existing blanket surveillance practice has been found unlawful.

“We are told this is a paedophile and jihadi “emergency”, but the court judgment they seek to ignore was handed down over three months ago and this isn’t snooping on suspects but on everyone.”

Those in financial circles will take particular interest in paragraph 43 of the Bill (PDF), which states DRIP powers may be used:

“For the purpose of assessing or collecting any tax, duty, levy or other imposition, contribution or charge payable to a government department.”

HMRC has been rapidly expanding both its tax avoidance investigations and enforcement arsenal recently, and this particular clause could prove particularly worrisome given the taxman’s abysmal enforcement record. Just yesterday it was revealed that at least 26 members of a prominent tax avoidance scheme would escape repaying owed tax as HMRC failed to investigate fast enough. The unspecific wording has also resulted in speculation that other Government departments could use the powers, such as the Department for Work and Pensions or TV Licensing.

Photo by Jon Rawlinson