Italians were surprised, and in some cases outraged, on Wednesday to discover that their income levels were available for public viewing on an Internet site.
As part of a crack-down on tax evasion, the outgoing center-left government made public every citizen's declared taxable income on the state's tax Web site, a decision attacked by consumer groups and some politicians.
The website, www.agenziaentrate.gov.it, was difficult to access on Wednesday, something media said was due to massive traffic as curious Italians tried to see what their neighbors and celebrities were earning.
"It's a clear violation of privacy law," said consumer group ADOC. "A danger for an increase in crime and violence as the data are an irresistible source for criminals."
ADOC said the fact that tax return forms do not include a request for consent to the data being published means their appearance on the Internet was clearly illegal.
Tax evasion is rife in Italy and both incoming prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and the man he will succeed, Romano Prodi of the center left, promised combating tax cheats would help plug a hole in the budget.
But many Italians resented a crack down under Prodi and Berlusconi himself said during the election he would stop the "atmosphere of threat and terror" that had been imposed.
Prodi's tax minister, Vincenzo Visco, often dubbed 'Dracula' by his detractors, said the Web site was meant to go live in January but was delayed until now to avoid clashing with the campaign for the April 13-14 election.
"It's all about transparency and democracy. I don't see the problem," Visco was quoted as saying on Corriere della Sera newspaper's Web site.
Guido Crosetto, a member of Berlusconi's party, said the move was the last spiteful measure of the defeated center left before it hands over power next week. "It's a very strange thing to do on the last day before clearing off," he said.
"Taxpayers need to pay less tax, not to know how much all the other Italians are paying."
Corriere said the site was "a delicious opportunity to find out with a click how much your neighbor or colleague or, for gossip fans, celebrities earn."