The French government can go ahead with plans to trawl social media to detect tax avoidance, the constitutional court has ruled.
The new rules, part of a broader law on tax changes passed by the lower house of parliament, greatly increases the state's online surveillance powers by letting it collect masses of public data, as part of a three-year online monitoring experiment.
Customs and tax authorities will be allowed to review people's profiles, posts and photographs on social media for evidence of undeclared income or inconsistencies.
If you say you’re not a fiscal resident in France and you keep posting pictures on Instagram from France, there might be an issue"
Human rights groups and the French data protection authority had expressed concern over the moves.
The court, in turn, admitted in its ruling that although users' privacy and freedom of expression could be compromised under the bill, the document also stipulates that the authorities would only be able to use public information related to the person disclosing it online. Password-protected content on social media platforms is to be off limits.
Additionally, regulators should keep a watchful eye on how the information is being used, according to the ruling.
Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin played down the significance of the move and the outcry, saying authorities in Britain and the United States had similar powers.
Darmanin told to Le Figaro: "If you say you're not a fiscal resident in France and you keep posting pictures on Instagram from France, there might be an issue."
The Budget minister also told French TV last year that the tax office "will be able to see that if you have numerous pictures of yourself with a luxury car while you don't have the means to own one, then maybe your cousin or your girlfriend has lent it to you, or maybe not".