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Australian Gov't Asks eBay To Name Big Sellers 215

Posted by Soulskill
from the fishing-expedition dept.
beaverdownunder writes "In an effort to combat fraudulent claims lodged within its Centrelink welfare-payment agency, the Australian Government has asked auction-site eBay to name all Aussies who sold more than $20,000 worth of goods in the last year. Should someone be found to have been doing such a high-volume of business on eBay while claiming Centrelink benefits but not declaring that income, they could potentially face prosecution. However, the president of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties, Terry O'Gorman, says this action is a gross invasion of privacy. 'What we say should happen is that if police have probable cause for investigating someone, they go to a magistrate, they get a warrant and they access that person's eBay records that way,' he said."
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Australian Gov't Asks eBay To Name Big Sellers

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  • by The Dancing Panda (1321121) on Friday June 15, 2012 @10:54AM (#40335771)
    I guess I just think people should pay their taxes. If I make over 20,000 dollars, my employer reports me. Not sure why other people should get away with it because they're selling stuff on E-Bay. It's not really an invasion of privacy. They didn't ask for what people were selling, just if they made over a certain amount of money selling stuff. And it's not like their looking for some people who sold one or two trinkets. 20,000 is a lot of income you're trying to hide.
  • by 6ULDV8 (226100) on Friday June 15, 2012 @10:57AM (#40335811)

    eBay also has the right to say "not without due process" as it applies to the jurisdiction.

  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Friday June 15, 2012 @10:58AM (#40335815) Homepage Journal
    You have to take into consideration overhead costs, product purchases, and other various retail related expenses.

    Not that I'm defending the practice, just pointing out facts.
  • wow, common sense! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ganjadude (952775) on Friday June 15, 2012 @11:00AM (#40335845) Homepage
    if you suspect someone, you get a warrant, not a list of XX people who made more than YYY. Why should ebay do the cops job? now remember that ebay is in probably 95% of the countries on the planet. Why should ebay do the polices job in over 200 countries?
  • by Cimexus (1355033) on Friday June 15, 2012 @11:01AM (#40335853)

    Yeah, inclined to agree. I'm no more of a fan of government intrusion into more areas of life than the next guy, but as an Australian taxpayer I also want to see the welfare using our tax dollars on those who are genuinely needy (given than most government benefits in this country are means-tested). This is no different than the dodgy guy down the road claiming Centrelink benefits without declaring his job, or claiming for non-existent children etc.

    $20k seems like a reasonable threshold too, though perhaps you'd want to also add a minimum number of items threshold as well (someone turning over many items to make $20k can probably be said to be a 'business on the side', whereas someone who just does a one-off sale of something expensive, say a car, and who isn't likely to use Ebay much on an on-going basis, is a different story).

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Friday June 15, 2012 @11:02AM (#40335871) Journal
    All employers are required to report salaries and bonuses paid to their employees. All businesses are required to submit detailed reports of their sales and maintain documentation for auditing. All wholesales, retailers and everyone is required to maintain clean accounting of their counterparties and submit them while being audited. Just because the commerce happens over the internet does not give you additional rights or additional expectations of privacy.
  • by mcmonkey (96054) on Friday June 15, 2012 @11:05AM (#40335899) Homepage

    One issue is, there's no way this info stays with the welfare folks. It's going to go to the tax revenue folks as well. And the drug folks to see if anyone is selling paraphernalia. And half a dozen other agencies.

    The way modern governments and law have developed, you're pretty much guaranteed to be breaking some law.

    But directly to DP's point, if there's evidence or reasonable suspicion someone is breaking the law, and the government goes after that person, that's not necessarily an invasion of privacy.

    But this kind of fishing expedition is pretty much by definition an invasion of privacy.

  • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Friday June 15, 2012 @11:06AM (#40335907)

    The problem is that Ebay is not pure income. I didn't sell anywhere near $20,000 last year... more like $5000. But that's NOT really profit. The $5000 of used games/books/video originally cost me ~$7000 to acquire. So the net profit is negative income (a loss). I'd still be entitled to collect welfare or unemployment checks.

    I would expect the tax agency to understand that basic principle, but I suspect they are more motivated by the desire to pay-off their budget deficit and will scew a lot of innocent people in the process..... people who are selling-off their possessions in order to survive unemployment, and actually losing money in the process. (Like my cousin who sold-off his $20,000 motorcycle for $10,000 just so he could buy food.)

  • Get a warrant (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Novogrudok (2486718) on Friday June 15, 2012 @11:06AM (#40335913)

    My opinion is that anybody who has a turnover of $20K a year on eBay should mention this on their tax returns. If they did not make a profit, chances are they do not have to pay any additional tax (depending on local laws).

    However, "pro-active reporting" or policing should not be done by eBay. If the Revenue Office or the police have suspicions about a particular person -- they should get a warrant to get data from eBay, just like Terry O'Gorman says.

  • by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris.beau@org> on Friday June 15, 2012 @11:08AM (#40335933)

    But! But! This is on the Internet! None of the meatspace rules are supposed to apply here!

    Bullcrap. Avoiding sales tax across state lines in the US dates back to Sears Roebuck and even makes some sort of sense. But the idea of somehow being beyond the law just because of the Internet is barmy. eBay is involved in the transaction as a broker. Here in the U.S. they should be forced into at least filing a Form 1099 or something, getting the state taxes comes back to the same problem as sales tax. And I'm sure Austrailia has a similar procedure to report income for non-employee contactor/consignment/etc sitautions. The actual story here is that they haven't been reporting this sort of income for years. Sounds like they need a knot yanked in their asses.

    I'm a conservative with so many libertarian leanings I's switch if the LP wasn't overrun with Idiotarian Libertarians who seem to only care about being worse surrender monkeys than than Dems and legalizing weed. But there must be taxes and nobody gets a pass on paying them. How high should the rates be I'll be happy to argue; too damned high! But ya gotta pay something. And to be raking in $20K+ free and clear while suckling at the public teat is right out.

  • Income reporting (Score:4, Insightful)

    by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Friday June 15, 2012 @11:10AM (#40335959)

    I don't know what it's like in Oz, but here in the US if you have any sort of income via salary, investments, pensions and yes even selling goods on EBay it gets reported to the IRS on various types of forms generally 1099 or W2 something or another.

    One thing to keep in mind is even if the Ebay income is reported on a 1099 to the IRS, that income isn't necessarily profit that you have to pay taxes on. Ebay fees, shipping costs, the costs associated with the acquisition of the items etc all count against the income. And the fact is few people really make any profit on Ebay.

    I really don't consider this an unusual invasion of privacy. It part and parcel of the normal invasion of privacy needed to run the system of anal rape known as income tax. Since the US Constitution was amended to enable that many years ago, Congress has the power to write laws to enable it. There isn't much you can do about it except move to someplace that doesn't do that.

  • not surprising (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 15, 2012 @11:24AM (#40336137)

    given that some centrelink employees are running their ebay business while they are at work

    pot?
    kettle?
    black?

    fix your own backyard first centrelink

  • by Cimexus (1355033) on Friday June 15, 2012 @11:27AM (#40336173)

    Unfortunately the real cheats will simply open multiple Ebay accounts and make sure they only sell $19,999 or less on each one per financial year ;)

  • by Baloroth (2370816) on Friday June 15, 2012 @11:57AM (#40336553)

    The government can ask for whatever they like, which is what they are doing. It sounds like it is completely up to Ebay to cooperate or not: they aren't "demanding" the names. If they start forcing Ebay to cooperate, that would be a little different. Also, the fact they are publicizing this is a good thing, rather than simply asking behind the scenes.

  • by SecurityGuy (217807) on Friday June 15, 2012 @12:13PM (#40336763)

    Wait, did you really just say that giving eBay, a private multinational company, the names and addresses of Australian welfare recipients doesn't infringe privacy? Imagine you're an Australian welfare recipient who doesn't even use eBay. Do you still think your statement is true?

  • by misexistentialist (1537887) on Friday June 15, 2012 @12:42PM (#40337111)
    Shouldn't they just be auditing the people applying for welfare, rather than tracking the financial activity of the entire financial population?
  • by Grimbleton (1034446) on Friday June 15, 2012 @01:05PM (#40337355)

    Oh no, criminals might get caught! What an issue!

  • by Grishnakh (216268) on Friday June 15, 2012 @01:24PM (#40337535)

    I'll reiterate my idea from another post above. If the government wants to do a fishing expedition for ONLY welfare cheats, and we want to keep them from fishing for lots of other info and harassing other people at the same time, it's easy to do. Have Ebay compile a list of records of all the people selling over $10k or $20k or whatever; each record has the person's name, ID number, etc., enough to make them uniquely identifiable. Make a cryptographic hash of every record. Then have the government do the same for all their welfare recipients. Then compare the hashes; this will identify people who are common to both groups; Ebay can then hand over the information for those people, without revealing anything else.

Every nonzero finite dimensional inner product space has an orthonormal basis. It makes sense, when you don't think about it.

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