European Data Protection Supervisor voices privacy concerns over 4AMLD

George HodgsonThe European Data Protection Supervisor’s Opinion on proposed amends to the Fourth EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive (4AMLD) shines a welcome spotlight on data protection implications and the ‘significant and unnecessary risks to an individual’s right to privacy’.

The Opinion, published on 2 February 2017, raises questions as to whether or not the proposed collection of personal data is proportionate to the fight against money laundering and terrorism financing and scrutinises the access to beneficial ownership information and the significant and unnecessary risks that this might cause an individual who has a right to privacy and data protection.

STEP has been heavily engaged with Brussels for some time on proposed revisions to 4AMLD. We have also, via our relevant STEP branches, been active on the issue in several EU Member States.

The existing 4AMLD recognises that many trusts are sensitive family arrangements, often designed to protect the interests of vulnerable family members. Trusts are therefore treated differently to corporate structures: beneficial ownership information on trusts is not publicly available and is only accessible by recognised competent authorities, and registers of trusts are confined to trusts with tax consequences, reflecting the fact that any risk assessment suggests that this is where the highest risk of abuse lies.

The proposed revisions to 4AMLD effectively put trusts on the same basis as most corporate structures. This means Member States would be required to establish comprehensive beneficial ownership registers of ALL trusts – a change that will impact on millions of ordinary families. It also would require that such register should be available, as a minimum, to anyone who has a ‘legitimate interest’ (not defined – but understood to include journalists and NGOs with an interest in this area), and allowing Member States to open such registers even to those with no demonstrable ‘legitimate interest’ in the information.

In spite of STEP’s best efforts, and the best efforts of other professional bodies who have been working with us on this issue, our arguments against these proposals were getting little attention from policy makers. The original proposals for the revision were sparked by a wave of terrorist attacks in Brussels, and then were increasingly seen as a necessary political response to the Panama Papers scandal. Brexit then did few favours for those trying to argue in Brussels for the merits of what are still generally seen as ‘Anglo-Saxon trusts’…

It is encouraging, therefore, that the European Data Protection Supervisor, a powerful voice in Brussels, has now weighed in with a stinging review of the proposed amendments. They are seen as having muddled objectives underpinned by little objective risk assessment and paying scant regard to the issue of proportionality, particularly in the proposal to allow wide access to beneficial ownership information on family trusts. We can only wait and see how this impacts on the intense debate that is currently going on in the EU Parliament on the proposals.

 

George Hodgson is Chief Executive of STEP