Last week, Hugh Grant was awarded a six-figure sum from the Daily Mirror Group for a breach of his human right to privacy. The DMG admitted that it had turned a ‘blind eye’ to the unlawful tapping of his phone by its journalists over decades. The compensation he said he would give to the charity ‘Hacked Off’ which was founded to lobby the Government about press intrusion.
But what is all the fuss about, you may ask? Hugh Grant has made a lot of money from being an actor, he should accept that his private life is of interest to the public and journalists are paid to find stories which sell newspapers.
William Hague is on record as having said ‘If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’.
We live in a world where privacy is a thing of the past. Everywhere we go, cameras are watching us – we accept this intrusion, to keep us safe, our mobile phones tell the world where we are at any time – we accept this intrusion as vital evidence in catching criminals – every-time we use our browser, we leave a foot print about who we are, what we like and what motivates us – we accept it, because the internet gives us more of what we want. Most of us do not care, we are neither famous nor rich, the public is simply not interested in what we do or say, it does not materially affect our lives.
The reason why Hugh Grant took the DMG to court and supports Hacked Off is not that a few journalists listened to his private conversations – but that they could ruin him. Look at how the stories about Kevin Spacey and Woody Allen have affected their lives. People won’t want to work with them, their films may be boycotted, the public has no sympathy.
Politicians can similarly be affected. Would the knowledge that Tony Blair smoked pot at university, or that John Major tucks his shirt into his underpants, or Trump paid a pin up girl to keep quiet about their affair affect how you vote?
Max Mosley, youngest son of Sir Oswald Mosely and Diana Mitford, said that the invasion of his privacy was ‘theft’. He will not be remembered for his presidency of the FIA, his contribution to the safety of motor racing, his physics degree, or his work as a barrister, but for the images of his naked buttocks and orgy with five women, one dressed in a military uniform. Is he now overlooked for offices, positions or invitations, due to the fact that he liked a ‘gang bang’?
In today’s world of invasive technology, we cannot stop the collation of information about our private life – the genie is out of the bag, and no amount of lobbying and campaigning is going to put it back in. But it is not the information we need to worry about, it is how it is to be used, by whom and for what purpose – and of most relevance whether it will materially affect us.
Governments across the world want to raise as much tax as they possibly can. But Governments, like journalists are not above the law. Salacious stories about Hugh Grant may sell newspapers, but tapping phones to get them is illegal. Governments may wish to raise more taxes, but is the collection of offshore financial information, where there is no suspicion of tax evasion, an invasion of human privacy and an abuse of power?
It is neither morally nor legally wrong for UHNW individuals to transfer money to trustees in an offshore jurisdiction. The fact that this is then no longer owned by the tax payer, is a matter for legislators to devise anti-avoidance legislation. It may be irritating, for governments to see so much money out of their tax reach, but this is no justification to invade their privacy and attack them.
Of course, there are some people who have set up trusts offshore who never intended to cede control to the trustees. These people should, in my opinion, be reported under an obligation which the OECD could initiate, to declare a suspicion of tax evasion. But surely it is not right for the government to collect and exchange all sensitive financial information, regardless of any suspicion that tax is being evaded?
Furthermore, it is not a good use of public funds to engage in fishing exercises, and to attack legitimate structures offshore which will only lead to the loss of thousands of pounds in professional fees and little if anything to show for it for the Treasury.
By all means, Governments should pursue tax cheats and dodgers, but they should not waste precious public money chasing butterflies.
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