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A thought piece on taxation and privacy

Through the Spyglass: Taxation is Mass Surveillance

Pointing a tweet saying "Taxation is mass surveillance" at someone like a gun

Death and taxes. It was Founding Father Benjamin Franklin who most famously called those the only two certainties in this world.

Though this might strike some as simply a clever idiom, there’s something to be said about the inevitability of taxation. We, to make modern society run, have to have a system of taxation and revenue.

But, just because you have to collect taxes, does that also mean you have to give up your privacy too?

In today’s digital age, taxation has become increasingly intertwined with technology and data collection, giving rise to concerns about privacy and individual freedoms. While taxation is inevitable, the question arises: can you collect taxes without infringing on privacy rights?

The short answer: yes!

Before I move forward, this article is not a particular endorsement of any particular system of taxation. Neither myself nor the United States Pirate Party is taking this opportunity to announce any platform positions. This is simply a thought experiment.

This is also not an admonition or rejection of taxation as a whole either. Taxation is an inevitability that cannot be eradicated, nor should it be. No Pirate will tell you publicly funded schools, libraries, roads, park or public transportation are bad things. This article is looking at the methods of tax collection and systems of taxation that infringe less on the privacy of citizens.

Let’s start by looking at the claim “Taxation is mass surveillance” and break it down:

When looking at forms of taxation such as income tax, it requires an extensive form of data collection in order to properly function. Income tax often require individuals to disclose detailed information about their earnings, investments, and assets, which can provide the government with significant insight into one’s financial life.

This level of data collection for income tax purposes raises concerns about privacy and the potential for mass surveillance. It opens the door to the government having extensive knowledge of individuals’ financial affairs, creating the possibility of profiling, targeting, or the misuse of personal information.

Similarly, sales tax involves monitoring and recording individual purchases to determine tax liability. This practice collects data on what people buy, where they buy it, and how much they spend. While the primary purpose is tax enforcement, the extensive tracking of consumer behavior through sales tax raises concerns about invasions of privacy and the creation of detailed records of individuals’ buying habits.

Property tax, another form of taxation, requires individuals to report information about their properties, including their value, location, and ownership details. Homeowners are essentially punished for improving where they live. This data via tax collection raises concerns as it involves the government monitoring and recording private property details, once again potentially infringing upon individuals’ privacy rights.

Once again, this is not a call to end those taxes. Instead, it’s a call to realize the implications of how¬† our systems of taxation, while necessary, can be used in direct violation of our data and privacy rights. So you may ask: “Is there a way to collect taxes without infringing on my privacy?”

We asked you this last year.

USPP tweet about land value tax

Enjoying a resurgence in popularity via the internet, Land Value Tax was first proposed in the US at the mainstream by Henry George. LVT is a system that focuses solely on the value of land, regardless of an individual’s personal financial details.

Unlike income or sales tax, it minimizes the need for extensive data collection. By taxing the unimproved value of land, this system avoids delving into individuals’ private financial information, thus preserving privacy rights.

Similarly, a carbon tax is a method of taxation that targets carbon emissions. It aims to discourage activities that contribute to climate change by placing a tax on carbon-intensive goods and services. This system does not require extensive data collection on personal financial details but instead focuses on the environmental impact of certain activities. By linking taxation to carbon emissions, privacy concerns associated with invasive data collection can be avoided.

Again, neither myself or the United States Pirate Party are using this article to explicitly endorse these forms of taxation as replacements. Instead, when looking at taxation, ask yourself if the methods of taxation which our country uses is the worth the sacrificing of your privacy and personal data. While not endorsements, these are two systems that should be placed in the public discourse on taxation.

These alternative taxation systems provide examples of how taxes can be collected without infringing on privacy rights. Without explicitly calling for radical reforms, we should be able talk about how we can strike a balance between the necessity of taxation and protecting individual privacy in the digital age.

It is important to have discussions and engage in thought experiments like this to promote awareness and find solutions that align taxation with privacy rights.

No one should ever be afraid of having nuanced conversations. Statements that invoke conversation and thought are worth having. It’s easy to take the road most travelled and harp upon issues that everyone can agree on, but starting a conversation and laying down a path towards discourse is a journey that can be well rewarding.

Everyone is effected by taxation. It is perhaps the most human thing when talking about living in society. There’s no reason our taxes should have to be used as a form of data collection and as yet another method of violating our privacies. There’s no reason we can’t have that conversation.

The United States Pirate Party doesn’t have an official stance on taxation, systems of taxation, or preferences in regards to the like. We do, however, have a clear stance on the protection of the privacy of the individual person. Privacy is a human right, and if we do not address human rights violations, both large and small, then we allow ourselves to be complacent in violations.

Death and taxes. They are perhaps the only two inevitabilities in the world. But in our taxation methods, we should discuss better methods. We should always discuss better methods for everything in all walks of life. But when speaking on the current systems of taxation within the United States, one could (and should) make the argument:

Taxation is mass surveillance.

1 comment on “Through the Spyglass: Taxation is Mass Surveillance

  1. Yes! Georgists and pirates should be friends!

    Do you know this book?

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