Laudator: Werner Hülsmann

The BigBrotherAward in the “Politics” category goes to the

Federal Minister of Finance,

Mr Peer Steinbrück

for introducing a life-long tax identification number for all residents of the Federal Republic of Germany. This Tax ID applies from the time of birth until beyond death. To generate and assign the Tax ID, all registration authorities in Germany share data about all people registered in their area with the recently founded Federal Central Tax Authority (Bundeszentralamt für Steuern).

The Federal Central Tax Authority then transmits the identification number it has assigned to a taxable person back to the registration authority for storage in the local register. In the future, registration authorities have to report every registered birth and every change to data previously transmitted to the Tax Authority.

The Tax ID is justified by the need to facilitate “unique identification of the taxpayer in tax procedures” . But this is the precise effect that a personal code number would have, and this has been ruled to be unconstitutional. As early as 1969, the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht, Germany’s highest court, whose tasks include ruling on the compatibility of individual laws with the constitution) said in its “micro census verdict”: “It would be incompatible with the constitutional value of human dignity if the state were to assume the power of compulsive registration and cataloguing of the individual with their complete personality” .

There has previously been a plan to introduce a unique personal code number for each and every resident of Germany in order to rationalise administrative tasks. At that time – 31 years ago – the Legal Affairs Committee of the Bundestag (the Lower House in Germany’s federal parliament) resolved, with the micro census ruling in mind, that “the development, introduction and use of code systems that would enable a unified numbering of the population within the jurisdiction of such a law is inadmissible” , and the plan was thus abandoned.

In 2003, the Legal Affairs Committee, unfortunately, no longer had any objections against a personal code number, now called the Tax ID. Article 6, paragraph 1 of the German Fiscal Code states:

“For the purpose of initial assignment of the identification number, the registrating authorities transmit to the Federal Central Tax Authority the following data for each person registered in their area of responsibility with sole or main residence:

  1. Surname (with titles)
  2. Previous names
  3. First names
  4. Degree
  5. Religious name / Pseudonym
  6. Date and place of birth
  7. Gender
  8. Current address of sole or main residence”

The Federal Central Tax Authority stores these data about all residents, supplemented with the Tax ID, the responsible local Tax and Revenue Authority, and the date of death. Even newborn babies are “graced” with a Tax ID. The Finance Ministry explains this with the following reasoning:

“Pursuant to the Income Tax Law, individuals with a domestic place of residence or regular presence are liable to Income Tax from the time of their birth. While these taxable persons will normally owe no Income Tax, situations in which they do can occur (e.g. with children gaining capital income from inherited assets). Without the Tax ID, such cases would be difficult to determine, as the tax authorities would have no information on the liable person due to a lack of tax registration.”

The Tax ID stays with a person throughout their life, whether they marry, change their name, move house, undergo a sex change, or die: your Tax ID won’t leave you! It even sticks with you for 20 years after your death.

The Fiscal Code does restrict the use of the Tax ID to the purposes defined within that code. However, for one, the list of purposes contains the get-out clause “to enable the revenue authorities to fulfil their duties assigned by legal provision” . So as soon as the duties are extended, the Tax ID is given new powers. That is unacceptable, the definition must be made more precise! Also, experience shows that over time it will not suffice to prevent further uses just through the law, because laws will over time be changed to meet new demands coming from the administration or the economy. In addition, only those “non-public institutions [emphasis by the BBA jury] act unlawfully who collect or use the Tax ID deliberately or carelessly for other than the permitted purposes, or who sort their data or make them accessible by the Tax ID for other than the permitted purposes.”  Therefore, abusive uses of the Tax ID by public institutions will not be penalised!

Thus the noose around the citizen’s neck is tightening ever more, as next to identification through biometrics or cameras, financial transactions can now be directly related to the individual. These technical means of combining data will surely kindle new desires, which will sooner or later lead to the list of permitted purposes for which the Tax ID can be used getting longer and longer.

Our congratulations for the BigBrotherAward, Federal Minister of Finance, Mr Peer Steinbrück!

1 German quote from

2 German source: BVerfGE 27,1

3 German source: Deutscher Bundestag, Drucksache 7/1027 – Stellungnahme des Rechtsausschusses des Deutschen Bundestages. Bonn, 5 May 1976

4 By-law on the Assignment of Tax Identification Numbers (Verordnung zur Vergabe steuerlicher Identifikationsnummern), article 3

5 German quote from

6 German source: AO (fiscal code), § 139b Abs. 4 Ziff. 5

7 German source: AO § 383a Abs. 1