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More Extraterritorial Legislation

Posted on 6th July 2015

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One of the things that I often complain about is extraterritorial legislation. There is a lot of it about, and the main source of it is the USA.

In case you are unaware of it, some examples include:

  • The US tax department's insistence that all US citizens file a tax return (for their whole life!) even while living and working exclusively overseas. Failure to comply may result in loss of citizenship and/or denial of entry into the USA.
  • The US tax department's regulation that anyone who lives outside of the USA who marries a US citizen also living overseas must register with them and receive a US tax number, and data about this non-US citizen's income must be filed to the IRS by their spouse.
  • The Helms-Burton Act, under which even companies which are not based in the USA may have any of their US assets seized if any part of the company does business with Cuba in defiance of US anti-Cuba sanctions.
  • The decision by an EU privacy watchdog that the "right to be forgotten" (which is only a right within the EU) must apply to all of Google's search engines around the world, thus reducing freedom of information for all nations' citizens.

My girlfriend has long learned to live with filing tax returns in both the USA and Germany, although the US filing is much more complex (despite that she never owes tax to the USA) and more stressful. Now she has received a letter from her German credit card company, asking for her US tax registration details. Apparently the credit card company may be penalised if they fail to provide this information; in other words, they are being blackmailed into complying with the US legislation (only for their customers who are US citizens, at least so far).

It is not just that such extraterritorial legislation is passed, and no-one seems to have any moral issues with their own country doing so; it is also that it is allowed by other countries to be enforced. Our governments around the world are enabling foreign governments (mainly the USA, but also others) to enforce their foreign laws on us. Our governments are thus complicit in the erosion of our rights and freedoms.

Some of us live in countries with written constitutions which guarantee certain rights, while others have a more complex underpinning to basic rights. On top of that, we all have laws which similarly define our rights in various areas. It seems, however, that what we think our rights may be are affected by foreign legislation, and also sometimes by the nationality of our spouse. As far as I am concerned, this situation is not acceptable.