INDEPENDENT Senator Paul Richards commended government for its proposal to remove taxes from mobile devices, laptops, etc from 2021, but urged it to be cautious of a potential increase in cyber-security threats if this is not properly managed. Richards was speaking in the Senate on Tuesday afternoon, when the Finance Bill 2020 was being debated.
Clause six of this bill aims to “amend Schedule (two) of the VAT Act to provide a zero-rate tax allowance to laptop computers, notebook computers, tablet computers, mobile and digital equipment, cell phones, software, accessories and peripherals.”
Richards said the bill generally seems to aim at providing a “significant amount of relief” to citizens.
He said, “Facilitating tax exemptions which are required for life in this new digital environment is extremely commendable. There’s no doubt that we’ve been thrust, like many countries in the world, into the digital space more than ever before.
“However, I didn’t hear much commentary on what we need to be vigilant about…There are opportunists that are bound in the world. And one of the red flags that have been raised in many jurisdictions (is that) as many people run to get devices, there are people and companies out there that will seek to exploit vulnerabilities.”
He said if this is done without regulations or guidelines, many devices with “built-in malware and built-in bots” could be imported and pose a major threat to the country’s cyber-security.
“Recent threats include malware, web-based web application attacks, phishing, distribution denial, ransomware, cyber-espionage…”
He added, that the governmnt “also needs to look at moving us from transition services in education and other areas to digital competence and strategic planning of our digital infrastructure in TT, including digital literacy – not only at the school level but at the wider-society level.”
He also suggested a review of the cost of internet connectivity and proposed a voucher system “by a means test to ensure that persons who are vulnerable are able to access a voucher that can pay for digital services and pay for internet services, particularly in rural areas where persons are in the lower socioeconomic group.”
Senate Vice-President Nigel De Freitas agreed, saying hackers and malware will be “pretty prevalent going forward as we as a people on this planet move into a digital world.
“One of the things that will happen is you’re going to get people who are going to engage in that type of activity and it’s very difficult to treat with and deal with. But going forward, it is just something you will get used to in terms of the continuation of the digital world growing.”
Earlier, Independent Senator Amrita Deonarine had sought clarification from Finance Minister Colm Imbert on whether desktop computers will also be exempt from taxes.
“I am not sure why it is being so narrowly specified. We shouldn’t really be too short-sighted on solely becoming mobile. Yes, it is important that we become mobile and we have everything at our fingertips but it goes back to what we are really trying to achieve in this digital economy – trust.” She too spoke of the need for digital literacy.