A freedom of information request has revealed that HMRC has made over 40,000 applications to view people’s private communication details, over the past three years.

Information appealed for by HMRC in the 41,351 requests it made, include access to text messages, emails and phone calls.

According to civil liberties campaign group, Big Brother Watch, only two other organisations made more applications for private data, these being two police forces, the Met and Merseyside.

Why does HMRC want access to this private information?

A spokesman for HMRC said: ‘HMRC uses Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) powers in support of its investigations into criminal attacks on the UK tax system.’ He explained that HMRC only uses RIPA powers, ‘where we have a criminal investigation underway which is where we suspect a fraud has been committed’; adding that of the 14,381 interventions in 2011, all of them related to ‘5,005 individual communications information requests’.

HMRC has reported that it has won more than 50 tax avoidance cases since 2010.

A recent publication from the government entitled, ‘Levelling the Tax Playing Field’ sets out the progress made in its enterprise to tackle tax avoidance. The document reports a number of successes including the closing of six corporate tax loopholes, a move which the government claims has protected over £1bn in revenue and yielded over £500m.