October 11, 2009

The Shockingly Transparent Swedish Society--Ratsit

Imagine a U.S. website that allows its users to snoop around the profile of any resident--famous and ordinary people equally open to examination. Not only are the home address, phone number, and part of the social security number publicly listed, the website also offers reports of the person's income tax for a nominal fee.

Such a site is hard to imagine. Given the fierce protection of individual privacy rights in the U.S., and fear of identity theft, no website like this can operate legally within the country. Therefore, when I first learned of Ratsit, I was totally shocked!

Ratsit, a popular Swedish website, is yet another manifestation of the openness of this Scandinavian society, where one can easily find out almost everything about a person, including who his spouse is, what companies--however small and unprofitable--he founded, and how much money he makes. This is in addition to the home address and phone numbers.

When it first came online, Ratsit had no restrictions in terms of who can search what, and it serviced 50,000 credit checks per day free of charge. Swedish people had a field day back then, snooping on everyone from their bosses to their relatives-by-marriage...until they realized others are just as blithely searching them. Now, addresses are still free, but salary number cost a few kronas, and the income/tax investigations are no longer anonymous.

Ratsit is only one of the many websites that offers these services. Internet together with the tax offices means that all of the following information are freely accessible by the public:

1. Address and phone number
2. Last taxed income
3. Vehicle ownership and license plate number.
4. Current passport photo.
5. School grades if the person went to a public school or university.

By making all these data available, the idea is to let citizens monitor one another, thereby reducing the occurrence of corruption--if someone only earns $100 per month but goes on cruises everyday and lives in a huge mansion, then something illegal is bound to be going on.

Well, that's the theory at least. And the Swedes seem to have a lot of faith in this system.

Ironically, Sweden does not list any information about criminals (for example, sex offenders) like U.S. sometimes does.

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