Did you know what the IRS knows all about you?

Every year, the many citizens in this country file their tax returns. But the tax office not only demands taxes, it also collects a lot of data.

Every second employee in Germany submits his or her tax return to the tax office. But what does the tax office know all about the citizens? atechbook has asked the income tax assistance association “Vereinigte Lohnsteuerhilfe e. V.” and a lawyer.

Electronic transmission of the data

Most of the data is now transmitted digitally. The tax office makes this possible online via its “Elster” portal. This has been particularly popular since January 2013, with the introduction of “ELStAM”, the electronic wage tax deduction characteristics. “The introduction also meant the end of an era, because the ELStAM replaced the paper income tax card. That’s why the ELStAM are now often referred to as the ‘electronic wage tax card,'” explains Christina Georgiadis of the Lohnsteuerhilfeverein.

This data is collected by the tax office

“Ultimately, all data that reveals information about income and assets is relevant. Accordingly, the German tax authorities process personal data on a large scale and also have an enormous amount of information from numerous different sources, including third parties,” explains attorney Christian Solmecke, who specializes in advising the Internet and IT industries.

The tax office uses the following data:

  • the personal identification number
  • The tax number
  • The contact information (first and last name, address, date and place of birth, e-mail address and telephone number).
  • marital status
  • the occupation
  • the religious affiliation
  • the contributions to health and long-term care insurance
  • the contributions to Rürup or Riester pensions
  • the employer’s data on wages
  • the data from banks, such as investment income exempt from capital gains tax deduction

How long may the data be stored?

Legally speaking, data protection takes a back seat to the state’s interest in seamless taxation. The relatively new General Data Protection Regulation (DSGVO) would not change this. But how long does the tax office store my data? “Personal data is stored for as long as it is required for the taxation procedure,” says attorney Solmecke. The basis for this is the tax limitation periods.

The tax authority has a duty to inform the data subject if it collects personal data about that person or intends to further process it. “However, these information obligations do not exist, among other things, if and to the extent that the data subject already has the information. This is to be assumed, for example, insofar as a general information letter pursuant to Section 32d (2) of the German Fiscal Code has been transmitted with reference to an information sheet – e.g. published on the Internet. In these cases, the persons are not informed personally, but the information is available for everyone to see on the net,” says attorney Solmecke.

Can the tax office access my accounts?

Yes, the tax office is allowed to access your accounts and retrieve the data there, as the Lohnsteuerhilfeverein informs on its website. And this is not new, already since 2005 the tax office has the possibility to request an account retrieval. In addition the tax office is entitled, if a taxable consumer cannot or does not want to deliver information over the own income. This law has enabled the government to make tax evasion much more difficult. In addition to the tax office, other authorities may also retrieve accounts such as customs authorities or the job center. The special thing: When an authority starts an account retrieval, the banks must not be informed about it. In addition, the tax office also only receives certain data and may not, for example, query the account balance or the turnover on the account.

Can I take action against the disclosure of my data?

Data that is entered in the tax return is subject to tax secrecy. This means: “As a consumer, I have no disadvantages to fear,” says Christina Georgiadis of the Lohnsteuerhilfeverein. Data that could be used to pay less tax should not be withheld from the tax office under any circumstances. “This ‘data protection’ costs money. Hiding data on taxable income is called tax evasion. This is a criminal offense and can cost freedom as well as money. So it’s not worth it either,” says Georgiadis.

Can I still do something against the use of my data? The persons affected by the data processing have various rights. “For example, the data subject has the right to request confirmation from the responsible tax authority as to whether personal data are being processed by the tax authority. If this is the case, one has a right to information. However, there are numerous exceptions to this as well. For example, there is no right to information if this would endanger public safety or order, or if the authority could no longer properly fulfill its tasks,” explains Solmecke. In addition, data subjects have the right to demand that the responsible tax authority correct any inaccurate personal data concerning them without delay. They can also demand that the responsible financial authority delete personal data in question without delay. “However: the right to erasure and the obligation to erasure always do not exist insofar as the processing by the tax authority is necessary,” says Christian Solmecke.

Does digitalization at the tax office also pose risks?

More and more people are using the online tax office ELSTER. The switch to ELStAM has simplified many procedures. “This is necessary, for example, when changing tax class or entering a child allowance. For example, anyone who gets married or leaves the church still does so at the town or municipality’s citizens’ office, but the town or municipality administration now passes the data directly to the tax authorities electronically. This not only saves time, but also effort,” says Christina Georgiadis.

But there are also possible disadvantages. Data security, in particular, is an important issue here. “Professional cybercriminals are often one step ahead of the authorities. Increasing digitization therefore always carries the risk of data theft,” Christian Solmecke points out. In addition, increasing digitization also leads to job cuts at the treasury. This, too, can have negative consequences. “Fewer and fewer tax officials have to check more and more tax returns, which inevitably leads to errors. For example, electronic returns are repeatedly taken over without being checked and without sufficiently informing the taxpayer,” says Solmecke.

You can read everything you need to know about the tax assessment here.