The income of every Italian citizen was published on the Internet without prior warning by the government, forcing the privacy authority to issue a formal complaint. Just days before it was due to leave power, Romano Prodi’s

government published the taxable income of every citizen on the country’s tax website.

The site went up Wednesday, proving popular as Italians jammed the tax agency's website to discover the earnings of neighbors, celebrities, friends and business colleagues.

The country’s privacy watchdog, however, lodged a complaint and suspended viewing of the information, declaring the publication a violation of privacy as the government was not permitted to make the information public.

"It's a clear violation of privacy law," ADOC, the Italian consumer group, told Reuters. "There is a danger for an increase in crime and violence as the data are an irresistible source for criminals."

According to the finance ministry, the move was an attempt to crackdown on tax evasion. In Italy's Corriere della Sera tax minister Vincenzo ViscoVisco was quoted as saying "It's all about transparency and democracy. I don't see the problem."

In a statement, the Italian privacy authority requested the media not publish any information collected from the website; however, some newspapers chose not to observe the appeal. La Stampa on Thursday printed the earnings and income taxes of a number of Italian VIPs including premier-elect Silvio Berlusconi and AS Roma soccer star Francesco Totti.

The daily newspaper, Italia Oggi, plans in the next few days to publish the details of the Italians' tax returns in a series of special supplements.

Italians are being advised to download forms from the tax payers' association website so they might claim 500 euros in damages each from the tax authority.

The timing of the move is being questioned as it occurred days before the outgoing leftist Prodi government is due to leave office.

Prime minister-elect Silvio Berlusconi's conservative People of Freedom Alliance and its Northern League ally triumphed in a significant win in last month's general election.

By Kathleen Clark
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