Senior practitioners that I have spoken to advise me that things were quite different in the good old days. For example, prior to the introduction of self-assessment, and the widespread use of computers, HMRC kept information about a taxpayer’s affairs in a paper file. Accordingly, a meaningful conversation about a client’s tax position could only be undertaken using the telephone and only if the required file could be found.
Privacy was more elastic: files were misfiled, lost, and in most cases, there was little value in the personal data they contained. Refunds were all processed by writing and posting a cheque; no need for HMRC to store bank details.
Agents would simply introduce themselves person to person, and most practitioners would be on “first name terms” with the local tax inspectors. No need to recite practice and client’s name, address UTR or NIC number before battle could commence.
It is interesting to reflect on this change of pace. Now, files are opened electronically, and we start to mutter about “speed of access” if we are required to wait half a minute. In tandem with this change of pace the opportunity for criminal elements to hack into our data has also increased, and dramatically. Now we are under threat from computer geeks who find a ready market for identity theft and the looting of personal bank details.
Perhaps in the future, the storage of DNA or other biometrics will be equally commonplace? If the front and back doors of computers – perhaps of the quantum processor build – are firmly locked, what then will be the scams of the future? Will they involve the macabre theft of biometric material?
The protection of privacy, as all businesses across the EU, including the UK, will acknowledge, is becoming an industry, and whilst those of us of more tender years may have no experience of the golden age of informal paper shuffling, we will all need, in today’s technological world, to keep pace with the protection of our personal data, wherever it is stored.