The global drive towards transparency, hastened by the financial crisis in 2008, started for good reason - the fight against money laundering, terrorist-financing and tax evasion was being hindered by a lack of information.
It is clear that ensuring revenue authorities and law enforcement agencies around the world, and others involved in preventing money-laundering, have access to accurate and up-to-date information on the true ownership of assets. Wherever and however those are held is key to battling money laundering, terrorist-financing and tax evasion effectively. Registers of beneficial ownership of companies and trusts, obligations to notify revenue authorities of tax avoidance schemes and schemes designed to obscure the true beneficial ownership of assets, information gathering powers and the exchange of information between revenue authorities and law enforcement agencies all form part of the battle 'tool-kit'. The extension of the UK trust register, obliging many more UK and non-UK trusts to register, and the UK government's recent confirmation that it will introduce a register of beneficial owners of overseas entities owning land in the UK are just two of the most recent developments in this area.
It is equally true, however, that individuals are entitled to keep their personal affairs confidential. The right to privacy and the right to protection of personal data are fundamental human rights and global transparency measures involve restriction on those rights. Those restrictions may be for legitimate aims but they still give rise to potential risks for individuals and their families, which should not be underestimated. The public release of confidential personal data following cyberattacks - like the recent Pandora papers leak – clearly puts individuals at risk. Individuals, even those who are fully tax compliant, also potentially face intrusive, costly and unnecessary enquiries from revenue authorities as a result of global transparency rules as much of the information exchanged between jurisdictions lacks the context required to allow it to be analysed correctly.
In order to protect yourself and your confidential personal data, and understand the risks posed by global transparency rules, it is important that you know what information on you and your asset-holding structures is available and being shared. This guide will give you a broad understanding of how your confidentiality and data rights can be compromised by global transparency rules and the risks which can arise as a result of your personal data being shared, including the UK tax risks. More widely, if you are concerned about your digital information footprint across the clear, deep and dark web, social media, search engines, websites, the media and due diligence platforms, we can help you undertake an online audit and then challenge damaging or inaccurate information to protect and maintain reputation and privacy. Despite current attempts to challenge the legitimacy of some automatic exchange of information regimes in the courts, there is little doubt that greater transparency in individual's' financial affairs is here to stay and that individuals should take steps to understand and, where appropriate and possible, mitigate the associated risks.