Data protection authority refuses easier access to bank accounts

The Data Protection Authority (DPA) has rejected a proposal to allow tax authorities quicker and easier access to bank accounts of people being investigated.

The measure is one of the two main planks of the policy of the De Croo government to fight tax fraud. It involves the information available to investigators from the Central Point of Contact (CPC), which holds details of all bank accounts in Belgium.

The CPC is governed by the National Bank, and the only information freely available at present to investigators are the details of what bank accounts a person holds. If the inspectors want more, they have to convince a court there are valid grounds to suspect tax fraud.

If the court order is given, investigators go to the bank concerned and demand details of the movements on the account.

The new proposal would have obliged the banks to give more information on bank balances annually to the CPC. Investigators looking into possible cases of tax fraud, terrorist financing, money laundering and recovery of back taxes could then consult the suspect’s bank balances in one place, without the need to go through the courts.

This is an unnecessary, very far-reaching and risky centralisation of financial data,” a spokesperson for the DPA said.

The proposal does not demonstrate in what way the new obligatory reporting is essential, the DPA said. The information already available to inspectors clearly indicates what bank accounts and other financial products the target person holds and where.

And the means are available for the necessary information to be obtained if the investigation is based on real suspicion and not simply a fishing expedition.

The DPA also rejected the government’s argument that the Covid-19 epidemic was an additional justification for the new measure.

Transient events can rarely justify the introduction of permanent measures,” the authority said.

The advice of the authority is not binding on the government. The office of finance minister Vincent Van Peteghem (CD&V) said the advice would be carefully studied.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

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