OSLO (AFP) — Norway's national tax office said Wednesday it had mistakenly sent confidential information about nearly all Norwegian adults to nine media groups, an error the government described as "extremely serious."
Tax authorities said they had sent CD-ROMs filled with the 2006 tax returns of nearly four million people living in Norway, a country of just 4.6 million inhabitants, to the editorial staff at national newspapers, radios and television stations.
While tax statements are open to public scrutiny in the Scandinavian country, the so-called personal number (like a social security number) inscribed on each form is highly confidential.
The number can for instance be used to change a person's home address, reroute their mail and purchase products on their account.
"This is extremely serious," Norwegian Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen, who summoned the head of the tax office over the blunder, said in an interview with the TV2 news channel.
The tax authorities, who have requested that the CD-ROMs be returned, stressed that the documents could only be opened by using a secret code, which it insisted limited the possibility that the personal numbers would be widely distributed.
In August 2007, hackers used a weakness on the website of a telephone operator to procure the personal identity numbers and addresses of 60,000 subscribers, including the head of the national data protection agency.
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