Privacy or Public Interest? Making the Case for Public Information on Company Ownership

Privacy or Public Interest? Making the Case for Public Information on Company Ownership

The first in-depth review of privacy considerations when publishing beneficial ownership data.

_I led this research project, coordinating a team of researchers, co-writing the final report and presenting findings at the International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) in Copenhagen in 2019.

The Panama Papers and other high-profile scandals have vividly demonstrated that complex off-shore corporate structures allow corruption, fraud, organised crime and tax evasion.

As a result, international bodies like the OECD, G20 and EU, and leading governments such as the UK, Denmark, Ukraine and Slovakia are making progress towards cracking down on the abuse of anonymous companies. One way of doing this is through public registers of companies’ beneficial owners (that is, the actual people who control and benefit from companies).

Privacy concerns

However, this move towards greater transparency has its critics, with some law firms and business advocates arguing that the publishing the names of beneficial owners risks violating data protection laws and individual privacy. But there is a significant risk that concerns about data protection and privacy may be overblown.

About this project

As research manager at The Engine Room, I led a research project to investigate these concerns in detail, supported by OpenOwnership and The B Team.

The resulting report assesses if publishing beneficial ownership data in public registers is lawful, if it is an effective way of tackling the abuse of anonymous companies, and how any potential impacts to privacy can be minimised or mitigated.

What did we find?

The report finds that in most legal regimes worldwide, neither a company’s obligations with respect to data protection, nor government authorities’ obligations regarding the right to privacy will prevent sensible, measured regimes governing the collection and disclosure of the identity of beneficial owners.

The report describes how these regimes are being implemented in countries such as the UK, and offers suggestions for others considering similar registers.

Download the full report [PDF]

Read the executive summary