Friday, May 04, 2007

Germany to introduce unique personal identifier — for tax purposes

It has been a long time in the making — since 2003, to be precise, when the Tax Bill passed in December of that year created the provisions, but it is only now that the implementation takes place: on 1 July 2007, the German Federal Tax Office (Bundeszentralamt für Steuern) will start building a new database which will have an eleven digit unique identifier (or "tax ID") for every person in the Federal Republic of Germany. The details can be found in § 139b of the Tax Code (Abgabenordnung).

This is the first time that a central register of the whole population will be created, and it will contain the person's number, name, doctoral title (if present — I always knew Germans were nuts about these…), the day and place of birth, the gender, the residential address, and ultimately also the day of death. For these data will only be deleted twenty years after that fateful event. The taxt ID will be created at birth, not only when the person becomes liable for tax.

German data protection officers have been very critical of this — most recently, the Federal Data Protection Officer in his annual report 2005/06 which was presented only two weeks ago (see page 100 of the report which can be downloaded here). But these interventions only limited the use to taxation issues so far — whether any "mission creep" will set in once this wonderful data pool exists, remains to be seen. There have been other cases in which it was tried to extend the purpose ex post, most recently the Autobahn road toll data (see this blog post from November 2005).

What seems remarkable is the complete public disinterest in what is arguably a more serious and concrete threat to every single German citizens' privacy than many other cases which are far more in the public spotlight, especially since it has been announced for more than three years which would have allowed plenty of time to mobilize against it. But then, my experience as a political scientist has always taught me that it is foolish to assume a linear relationship between facts and public perception... Or is it just that activists don't read the tax code?

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At 17/4/09 08:34, Anonymous ericsson said...

Given that all German citizens of 16 years or older are already required to possess an ID card (or alternatively just a passport will suffice -, surely this new tax ID is only an issue for minors and non-citizen residents (who currently don't have an ID card - although I believe that the ePA rollout will change that as it will be required as an identity authenticator for eGovernment services)?


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