The UK tax authority HMRC abused the country's controversial anti-terrorism law to spy on a whistleblower and journalists at the Guardian after it was embarrassed by the revelation that it had given a sweetheart deal to Goldman Sachs. Osita Mba revealed a government oversight body that HMRC forgave GBP10M in interest owed by Goldman Sachs after a failed tax-evasion scheme, and in the ensuing public furore, HMRC's top executives invoked RIPA, the country's anti-terror law, to spy on its employees and on Guardian journalists in order to discover the identity of the leaker. Under RIPA, HMRC is able to spy on the nation's emails, Internet traffic, text messages, phone records and other sensitive data.
Lin Homer, the head of HMRC has appeared before a Parliamentary committee to explain its use of anti-terror spying powers to uncover the identity of a whistleblower whose personal information is protected by legislation, and was unrepentant, and would not rule out doing it again in the future.
Margaret Hodge, the committee chair, expressed shock at this. But it was under her party's last government, the Blair regime, that RIPA was put into place, over howls of protest from campaigners who predicted that it would be used in just this way.
The MP told Homer she was particularly surprised "that you made a request under Ripa, which is there to deal with terrorism". She asked for assurances that HMRC would "never again use these powers on a whistleblower".
However, Homer declined to offer Hodge the desired reassurance, responding: "You know that we cannot offer carte blanche assurances for evermore that we won't use these … I have other duties of care to parliament and other individuals."
Using the Public Interest Disclosure Act, Mba wrote in confidence to the National Audit Office (NAO) and two parliamentary committees in 2011 saying that the then head of tax, Dave Hartnett, had "let off" Goldman Sachs from paying at least £10m in interest.
HMRC criticised for using terror laws against tax whistleblower [Rajeev Syal/The Guardian]
(Image: HMRC Evasion Campaign Poster, HMRC, CC-BY)
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