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IRS privacy protections look pretty darn good

Back in April, a convicted identity thief told a Congressional panel that the U.S. tax system was riddled with security holes.

But now comes a news item that makes the IRS look airtight when compared to Swedish tax record keeping.

"Swedes have unfettered access to almost all records that the state keeps on the population," according to an Associated Press story published in today's New York Times. "Only some 10,000 people who live under some form of threat, are excluded from the public records."

Previously, nosy Swedes had to visit the local tax office to ask about their friends' and neighbors' finances. Then came Ratsit.se.

Ratsit_logo_2_2 Back in November, according to the AP, the Swedish Web site started publishing financial details, free of charge, from the national tax authority. The site's 610,000 registered users, out of a total population of 9 million, have accounted for an average of 50,000 online credit checks a day.

Usually, credit check companies must notify individuals when their records are pulled. But with Ratsit access, notes the story, anonymous snoops could uncover financial information simply by typing in a name and clicking ''search.''

That's come to an end ... sort of.

Sweden dearly values its transparency laws -- its freedom of information act dates to 1766 -- so Ratsit searches will continue. But now, snoops must pay.

Ratsit and similar sites still make personal income and debt information available, but starting last week that data costs $21 for 10 requests a week, and $3.60 for each additional request.

And anyone whose finances are viewed will now be notified by mail and told who asked.

''I do think our service is justified because things like wages should be transparent,'' Ratsit's chief executive, Anders Johansson, told the AP. Employers use the service check whether potential hires are in debt, he said, and ''a lot of people use it to negotiate their pay.''

In additional to privacy concerns, the National Tax Board took action to stem fears that such online openness makes it much too easy for identity thieves.

You think?


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