Danish proposal could give tax authorities ability to copy corporate hard drives at any time | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 28.10.2010
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Danish proposal could give tax authorities ability to copy corporate hard drives at any time

In a DW interview, a Danish tech journalist explains that the proposal has gone through a hearing, and now the tax authority is drafting a response. Computer security experts and privacy advocates are very concerned.

Anders Hoeg Nissen is the host of Harddisken

Anders Hoeg Nissen is the host of Harddisken

Last month, the Danish Ministry of Taxation proposed a new bill that would allow them to copy any corporate hard drive, without warning, for the purpose of verifying that the company was paying appropriate taxes. Some conservative politicians have supported the bill in recent weeks, and while the move hasn't gotten much attention outside of Denmark, it could set a precedent for corporate privacy and security. To learn more, Deutsche Welle spoke with Anders Hoeg Nissen, the host of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation's radio program, Harddisken.

Deutsche Welle: This plan, this proposal is to have the tax authorities keep mirror copies of corporate hard disks. Is that right?

Well, the suggestion is that they are not going to be able to keep real-time, updated, mirrors of company servers, but the idea is that they will be able to make copies of all the content of company servers whenever they want to, to be able to perform some type of control to check that the Danish companies are paying their taxes and so on. That's how it's worked until now, with a warrant, they could come with a couple of big hard drives in a bag and start copying. The new law proposal suggests that they would be able to do this without a warrant at any time.

Now I imagine that this would raise a lot of questions in the corporate, privacy and computer security communities, no?

It has raised a lot of questions. From the tech community it's very much a data privacy discussion. It goes against what we believe, that we are alowed to have our own data and not have the authorities be able to snoop into them at their discretion. But the industry, the representatives of the Danish companies, for example, the Confederation of the Danish Industries' ICT Department has called this worthy of a banana republic. There's been some very strong reactions and strong language at this presentation of this proposal.

It could takes months for this proposal to pass the Danish parliament

It could takes months for this proposal to pass the Danish parliament

Now, I understand that the tax authorities want to be able to control that people are paying their taxes. But at the same time, allowing a government entity to have access to secure, private information, clients and other kinds of things, it just seems like you're asking for trouble.

I would think so, yes. What some of the companies that have reacted to this are saying is that: we have a lot of confidential information, business secrets, contacts and lots of stuff that has nothing to do with whether or not we're paying our taxes or not, and it makes no sense that the tax authorities should gain access to all this information without some kind of warrant or some kind of suspicion that the company is not paying the taxes that they're supposed to. This is obviously a huge breach of the company's private information.

Who is supporting this? Is this just an idea that has come from the tax authority itself? Has this been supported by any political parties?

As far as I can make out, this came from the tax authorities, but with the minister for taxes here in Denmark is sanctioning this proposal that initially came from the tax authorities. It seems that both the liberal party and the conservative party that make up the government in Denmark at the moment are supporting this not as a proposal, but some of the thoughts in the proposal. It's not at the stage where it's ready to be made into a law. It's just gone into a hearing, and they're looking at the answers.

So what would it take for this to actually become law in Denmark, and do you think it actually has a chance that it could become law?

I just spoke to the tax authorities press office and they said that they've received the answers from the hearing process and they're going over those answers and trying to see if the original proposal should be somehow modified or perhaps completely taken off the table. They wouldn't divulge what kind of answers they've gotten, but we can only speculate after having read the reception in the press. But I would guess that this will not come to an actual law, in the form that we've seen it so far. But should it come to that, it would take a few months, and then it would come to a vote in the Parliament, and then it would or would not become a law.

Author: Cyrus Farivar
Editor: Amanda Price

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