RAI allowed to check Italians' records

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ROME -- Italy's Privacy Protection Authority on Wednesday gave state broadcaster RAI the right to examine Italian residents' financial information as a way to determine who had not paid the broadcast license fee that makes up part of RAI's financing.

The permission immediately attracted attention from privacy advocates, who said that the information could give RAI information about viewers that should be kept under wraps. But the privacy regulator defended the move, saying it will make it easier for RAI to stop sending reminder notices to residents who have already paid.

The so-called canone is a 99 euro ($156) charge for the first television in each household, with subsequent sets charged at a lower rate. The money raised by the canone contributes to the finances of RAI, which also is partially funded by ad sales.

But since the fee is paid as part of a resident's tax return, RAI has no way of knowing who has and has not paid the sum -- and in the past the broadcaster has erred on the side of caution and sent warning letters to all taxpayers.

Access to parts of the tax rolls would allow the broadcaster to determine the households that have not paid the fee and to direct the warnings at them.

But privacy groups said they will appeal the decision.

"There is no way a broadcaster should have the right to a family's private financial data simply to determine whether the family has paid a 99 euro fee," a spokesman for the Rome-based group Citizen Rights said.
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