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Monday, July 8, 2013

OOPS: IRS Accidentally Releases Thousands of Social Security Numbers

NRCC Mobile Billboard Reminding The People Of Augusta That Their Democratic Congressman Wants to Give the IRS MORE power,
Even when they aren't trying to do evil, the IRS is dangerous to the American people. According to a recent audit by, the Internal Revenue Service posted tens of thousands of social security numbers on its websites. Even worse they were social security numbers associated with non-profit 527 political organizations. The identifying numbers were on the Internet for less than 24 hours after being discovered, but the damage was done.

Every so often, 527s have to file tax forms to the IRS, which then get added to a database. The database itself is hardly a secret; the IRS has been sending updated records routinely to and other public-interest groups, this site has broken stories using the IRS Database (the Soros funding J-Street story for example).

The IRS told Public.Resource founder Carl Malamud, to disregard the Form 990-Ts included in the agency's January release, and of course he looked at them more closely. 
On July 2, Public.Resource.Org discovered this systematic violation of Americans' privacy and notified the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. We documented our findings in an audit document, copies of which were furnished to I.R.S. officials and senior White House officials. On July 3, the administration removed this database from public view. 

Public.Resource.Org uncovered this serious violation of federal law in the course of an unrelated audit which was sparked when, on June 18, the I.R.S. notified Public.Resource.Org that it had sent out an improperly-vetted shipment of data on DVD for the January release of the Form 990-T, the Exempt Organization Business Income Tax Return. Because the I.R.S. had publicly released that data in February, and had not notified recipients of the bulk data subscription of this privacy breach for several months, Public.Resource.Org conducted a systematic examination of the breach and how it was handled and delivered that audit to the Inspector General on July 1, 2013. took down its copy of the compromised 990-Ts and replaced them with a clean version that the IRS had sent. But it was another day before "senior White House officials" the IRS removed the files from public view on their end, on July 3. The organization has asked that the entire database be taken down until such time the IRS can develop systems to keep confidential information--confidential.

It is with greatly conflicted feelings that we requested the administration make the political organization database go dark temporarily. We understand that this is an essential tool for researchers and even temporary unavailability hurts their efforts. We hope and expect that the administration will act promptly to address the privacy violations and get the database back online. Public.Resource.Org spends almost all of our energy making government information available, and only twice in the past have we had to insist that the government remove information.
Public.resource calls the IRS's efforts at data security "unprofessional and amateur," and of course our favorite government agency has tried to do its very best to cover up the accidental leak.
 The I.R.S. has even gone so far as to assert copyright by the government on the political disclosures database in direct violation of the “works of government” clause of the Copyright Act. The I.R.S. has a policy that even in an emergency, their staff are not allowed to use e-mail to communicate with organizations such as ours, a policy that makes it much harder to respond to incidents quickly. The I.R.S. has recklessly violated the privacy of Americans and deliberately tried to keep scrutiny away from our worst charities. 
Public.resource says its time for the White House to send a team over to the IRS to help them build controls.  I disagree.  A better option would be to follow Senator Cruz's advice and abolish the IRS. Whether they are trying or not, they are hurtful to the American People.

(H/T National Journal)

1 comment:

Libertarian Advocate said...

Were a lawyer or financial services industry executive to be as incompetent and negligently careless with a client's SS# they would - rightfully - be hammered by a jury in a malpractice action, likely to the tune of millions. The IRS, gets away with Gee, oooops, we're sorry, we'll try to make sure it doesn't happen again. Perhaps it's time to apply a fiduciary duty to all government employees, congress critters included.