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Swedes Don’t Want Total Information Freedom

Imagine a legal web site where you could discover how much your neighbour made and how much he paid in taxes. Wouldn’t you be just a little bit curious?   In Sweden that information is freely available, thanks to a freedom of information law that’s more than two centuries old. But thanks to the site Ratsit.se, where people could anonymously discover financial information on others, things might be changing a little.   Under pressure of the Swedish Data Inspection Board, Ratsit has agreed to restrict access to the information.   As it stood until last week, all you needed to do was use the area within the site, type in a person’s name and discovered their salary, how much they owed, and paid in taxes. This information was already available, but it hadn’t been so easy to access. Ratsit had begun the service in November 2006 and it has proved surprisingly popular, with 610,000 registered users from a population of nine million. Two million credit searches were conducted in the two weeks before the restrictions took affect.   In some ways, the site was given no alternative but to restrict the service, as the National Tax Board threatened to supply them with tax information only on paper, which would have created a surge in costs in digitizing the data. Legally, the Tax Board has to supply tax data when asked.   “I do think our service is justified, because things like wages should be transparent,” said Anders Johansson, the chief executive of Ratsit. “A lot of people use it to negotiate their pay.”   There had been many complaints from the public about the ease of access to the data, which forced the Data Inspection Board to take action.   The restrictions aren’t absolutely draconian, however. Although they’re no longer anonymous, with those being searched receiving e-mails stating the names of the searchers, users only have to pay around $2 for 10 searches.