Italy Reveals Everyone's Income... On Purpose

from the whoops dept

Last week I saw the headlines mentioning that Italy had revealed taxpayer info, and naively assumed that it was yet another story of yet another accidental data leak by a government agency. After all, we've seen so many. However, thanks to reader Luca Mirabelli for pushing me to take a second look at the story. It turns out that rather than an accidental release, it was very much on purpose. Vincenzo Visco, a deputy economy minister, decided to publish the details of everyone's tax returns on a publicly available website, including details such as what they earned, taxes paid and date of birth. He claimed that he did this as a "simple matter of transparency and democracy." The data was quickly pulled down due to (reasonable) fears that the release violated Italian privacy laws. According to Luca, Visco also claimed: "In the USA, tax filings are already public, check any American TV-movie and you'll see" though I can't find that statement in any English translation.

While many people do seem angry at Visco, he is correct on one point: he was actually following the law. There's an Italian law from 1973, requiring that tax documents be available to the public. It's just that, historically, that has meant having to trek to the tax office to get access to the documents. We've seen similar complaints about other "public" info that is now much more widely available, such as court documents. It seems the real problem here is that law -- which makes everyone's tax returns public. Though, Visco certainly should have realized what a questionable move this would be, and focused on amending the law, rather than going ahead with just making everyone's tax returns available online.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Max, May 6th, 2008 @ 3:46pm

    ...and the ones who were not published?

    It's a good news, and I agree with Visco. Now the authority for the privacy blocked the diffusion of tax data and only some cities are available on emule on the web. The absurdity of the situation is that some data is available and others are not: no more equity of treatment...

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    Dave Barnes, May 6th, 2008 @ 6:35pm

    Get over it

    Scott McNealy said: "you have no privacy, forget it".

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Somewhat shocked, May 6th, 2008 @ 7:28pm

    In the US

    it is illegal to make public anyone's tax information. In fact the fines for doing so can easily rack up, such as one case where an IRS agent called all the patients of a Dr. who was being investigated to get additional information on the Dr's income sources. The Dr. was eventually awarded several million dollars.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Shohat, May 7th, 2008 @ 2:12am

    More Infromation...

    Actually, there are several European countries that publish ALL financial data of every single citizen, salaries, bank balance and debt. Everything is published.
    This won't fly in the US because everyone are afraid of everything, but generally, it's not a bad thing.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Sean (Palermo), May 7th, 2008 @ 3:23am

    And now...

    It was supposed to be part of the fight against tax-evasion. Now the authorities are threatening anyone who accesses this data online with criminal charges - let's say that again - after having published the info, they are now saying that anyone who gets it via peer2peer is breaking the law.
    Most Italians I know are shocked but secretly delighted that all this was published - it's the big names that are screaming the loudest (and thus, clearly, have the most to hide!).

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Luca, May 7th, 2008 @ 3:37am

    Visco's reference to American TV series

    Too bad that the juiciest part of the story, i.e. Visco's reference to American TV series, was left out from most of the English language reports. We may excuse foreign journalists for thinking it was just a joke :-)

    Here it is... reported by the English section of Corriere della Sera.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Ken, May 7th, 2008 @ 6:07am

    Not a bad thing?

    @Shothat

    How is it "not a bad thing" that "there are several European countries that publish ALL financial data of every single citizen, salaries, bank balance and debt"? I'd say thats a horrible thing; not because I am afraid but because it is nobody's business but my own how much I make and what the balance is on my account.

    As to preventing tax evaders, I commend the tax-evaders. If somebody comes to steal from my house, I will do whatever I can to stop them. And what are taxes other than government sanctioned and mandated theft?

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Sean, May 7th, 2008 @ 7:16am

    Re: Not a bad thing?

    "And what are taxes other than government sanctioned and mandated theft?"

    And what is the government, except elected representation of the people? If you don't like it, vote for someone else.
    Of course everyone wants smaller, cheaper, government and thereby less taxes - except when sh*t happens and then everyone's screaming "where's the government?"

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Nasch, May 7th, 2008 @ 9:18pm

    Re: Re: Not a bad thing?

    Right on. The cry of the American Revolution was "no taxation without representation", not "no taxation".

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Self Assessment, Jan 9th, 2009 @ 8:18am

    Self Assessment Tax Returns

    Good post! way to go!

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Self assessment, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 8:45am

    Self assessment tax returns

    Italian privacy laws make no sense! that's one good reason not to live in Italy.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    sawchux, Dec 4th, 2012 @ 12:47pm

    Boost in reported income as a result?

    A couple yeara ago I heard the Italian head of major consultancy give a keynote at an e-Government conference plenary discuss this particular case, noting that the leakage had the effect of prompting Italians to snitch on each other, resulting in billions of new reported tax revenues to the Italian government.

    I would *love* to know just how much of a revenue boost this intentional privacy violation created!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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