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.

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Comments on “Italy Reveals Everyone's Income… On Purpose”

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Somewhat shocked says:

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.

Sean (Palermo) (user link) says:

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!).

Ken says:

Not a bad thing?


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?

Sean says:

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?”

sawchux says:

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!

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