Mass privacy violation in Italy

May 1st, 2008

There has been outrage in Italy after the outgoing government published every Italian’s declared earnings and tax contributions on the internet.

The tax authority’s website was inundated by people curious to know how much their neighbours, celebrities or sports stars were making.

The Italian treasury suspended the website after a formal complaint from the country’s privacy watchdog.

The information was put on the site with no warning for nearly 24 hours.

Sour grapes?

The release of the information was one of the last acts of the outgoing centre-left government and has shocked many tax-shy Italians, says the BBC’s Mark Duff in Milan.

But it was also hugely popular, and within hours the site was overwhelmed and impossible to access.

The finance ministry described the move as a bid to improve transparency.

Critics condemned it as an outrageous breach of privacy.

The timing of the move, just days before the current administration hands over to incoming Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, was intriguing too, says our correspondent.

The outgoing government came to power promising to tackle Italians’ notoriously lax approach to paying tax.

Some sceptics have seen the move as just end of term sour grapes, our correspondent adds.


Of course, in Finland, the tax records of every ‘citizen’ are released every year, by law:

Finland Abolishes All Tax Record Privacy

Computer Hacker #1: “Hey look, this vice president makes twice as much as that vice president. I bet they don’t know that!”

Computer Hacker #2: “They do now — I just emailed the entire company!”

–An old IBM commercial

Certain noisy socialists love to remind us that the Scandinavian nations supposedly have a “higher standard of living” than the U.S.

Of course, such calculations do not include factors like this:

Care to find out what your neighbor earned last year, or how much your partner really has stashed in the bank? In Finland you can — and a lot of people did Wednesday.

Every November when the Nordic nation’s tax records of the previous year become public, Finns indulge on a massive scale in satisfying their curiosity about each other’s finances.

Newspapers were crammed with lists of the wealthiest and highest-earning men and women in 2004.

Veroporssi, a private firm which offers income details on everyone in Finland via mobile text message, said it was its busiest day of the year and had no time to comment.

Words escape me.

Of course, the next logical question, to the extent logic plays any role here, is why should tax records be public information but not library records, or medical records, or report cards, or credit card statements, or grocery lists, or Netflix queues, etc.

If this is what a nation with a “higher standard of living” considers an appropriate privacy policy, then I’d prefer poverty.

Words, on this occasion do not escape me.

It is completely wrong, immoral, indefensible and outrageous that this violation of privacy has been perpetrated on the good Italian people.

Think about it this way.

If the medical records of every Italian were posted on the internetz, would that be any different? Why do people (like the people in Finland) feel that only some things should be private and not others? It is the choice of the owner of the data what he or she decides to do with it, and it is absolutely evil for a third party to compel you to divulge private details to them, and for them to subsequently release that data for free.

Do I have to enumerate the reasons why people would want to keep facts about them private? If you read BLOGDIAL, then the answer is ‘no’ if not, then you have no sense, or you do not read BLOGDIAL, in which case, you have no sense.

It seems that we are in the middle of an epidemic of information release; deliberate and immoral disclosure of personal data by corrupt officials, who through malice, are committing acts of violation on a scale that has never been seen in the history of the world.

Nothing good can come of it, except the setting in stone of cast iron privacy laws that will make the collection of data a very dangerous act.

When such laws are passed, companies will find ways of dealing with the public that will remove the need to collect any personal data of any kind, thus removing the risk of internal database leaks, crack attacks and anything that could mean that they were prosecuted for a privacy violation.

The public would win because they would have their privacy back. Business would win because they will have clean, feature rich systems that respect their customers, and the world would be a…nicer place

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