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.