For just a few hours, Italian citizens were able to see how much their friends, neighbors, colleagues and bosses declared as taxable income. In early May, officials from Italy's outgoing centre-left government published the tax records of some 38 million Italians for the 2005 fiscal year on the official website of Italy's tax office.
With so many people trying to gain access to the Web pages, the site crashed a few hours later. The tax data was then blocked by the country's privacy watchdog, which launched an investigation to determine whether there had been a violation of Italy's privacy rules. However, the suspension did not stop thousands of people from circulating the information via peer-to-peer file-sharing websites.
The unusual occurrence of granting public access to the tax statements of private citizens stirred controversy and mixed reaction from both citizens and politicians alike.
A wave of protest and accusations of violation of privacy immediately ensued as consumer groups launched legal proceedings against the tax office. Consumer association Codacons is seeking compensation of 52 euro for each of the 38 million taxpayers whose income was made public on the website.
Several members of the centre-left government said that the move to post citizen's tax data online was part of a crackdown on tax evasion, arguing it was part of an official effort to improve fiscal ‘transparency'. Former Infrastructure minister Antonio Di Pietro said critics of the measure clearly had something to hide: ‘There's no need to criminalise transparency...Doing everything under sunlight is better than hiding something'. Meanwhile, politicians from the centre-right accused Romano Prodi and his coalition of making a last vengeful move before leaving office.
National dailies published the tax declarations of the rich and famous, including names, names, birthdates, addresses, declared income and tax paid. This information was arranged alphabetically and according to the municipality where tax declarations were filed.