Tax lists remain open for inspection

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Norway’s long-standing policy of revealing taxpayers’ reported income, net worth and amount of taxes paid looks likely to continue. Protests have poured in since the so-called

skattelister (tax lists) were made available on the Internet, but attempts to end the practice are unlikely to gain majority support in Parliament.For the past several years, it’s been possible to simply tap in a Norwegian taxpayer’s name and find out the amounts of his or her taxable income and net worth and exactly how much tax he or she paid in the prior tax year.

The same information has been available for decades, but before the dawn of the Internet, Norwegians curious about what their neighbours, family, friends or foes earned had to make a trip to the tax office and scroll through lists on paper.

Now the tax lists are released in October and most all Norwegian news sites eagerly post links to them, knowing that they can generate huge amounts of traffic.

It didn’t take long, though, before some alarms started going off. Families complained that their children were being bullied at school, by other children who’d found out how much (or how little) their parents earned. The easy Internet access to the lists nagged at whatever feeling of financial privacy Norwegians may have left, while police believed criminals were using the tax information to target which homes they chose to rob or which Norwegians they may try to swindle.

The Progress Party, Norway’s most conservative, quickly picked up on growing public unease over the highly public tax lists, and proposed withdrawing them from public review. The measure came up for hearing recently, though, and newspaper Aftenposten reported that Police Director Ingrid Killengreen had to admit before skeptical members of the Finance Committee that police “don’t know enough” yet about how the lists may be used for criminal purposes.

Media representatives were, predictably enough, opposed to any restrictions on making the tax information public. They argue that society is best served with openness, and that publicly available tax information can help fend off tax fraud and uncover weaknesses in the system.

Most importantly, the same government that was in power when earlier moves to lock up the lists were voted down remains in power now.