The Internal Revenue Leak Service

Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig testifies at the Senate Finance Committee hearing on June 8. ...


Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig testifies at the Senate Finance Committee hearing on June 8.


Photo:

Tom Williams / Zuma Press

Democrats want to give the Internal Revenue Service $ 80 billion to audit millions of Americans every year. Yet six months after ProPublica’s first progressive website published wealthy Americans’ secret tax information, the tax agency still can not explain what happened. Senate Republicans led by Chuck Grassley of Iowa are demanding answers.

In a December 1 letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, the 14 GOP members of the Senate Finance Committee express frustration at the agency’s limited findings or reports of the ProPublica leak. Mr Rettig promised when the leak occurred in June to find out what happened, but in September he told senators: “We do not yet have information regarding the source. Since then, it’s been the crickets.

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The scale alone should make investigating the violation a priority for the IRS. ProPublica claims to have thousands of tax information on individuals and has continued to publish confidential information since its first report. Neither the publication nor federal authorities said they knew who disclosed the documents. No one seems to know, or at least admit, how this was done, or how many more taxpayer files could have been stolen.

Flight is a crime, but its location is not simply a matter of criminal enforcement. The breach highlights the IRS’s general failure to protect taxpayer data. In their letter, GOP senators refer to several known weaknesses in the agency’s systems.

The problems include the agency’s master file for tax returns, which was developed in 1962 using a coding language now widely considered obsolete. Yes, 1962. That was several digital revolutions ago. The Government Accountability Office concluded a review of the agency’s systems in 2020, and its report was ruthless. More than a year before the leak, he warned of loopholes that allowed “unauthorized access, modification or disclosure of financial information and taxpayer data.”

Equally disturbing is the taxman’s soft response. A separate GAO report released in May found that the tax agency had failed to even enforce its own authentication protocols, which would help detect violations when they occur.

These data security concerns may soon be magnified as Democrats give the IRS more resources and power in their multibillion-dollar tax and social spending bill. The main goal of the $ 80 billion is to expand audits to millions of law-abiding Americans. The bill also provides for “modernization of information technology”, but does not specify which systems need to be reformed or where the money will go.

Like the GOP letter the dish, “The IRS is to receive a mandatory flow of $ 80 billion, after what the IRS would report to Congress on how it plans to use the funds, that is; fund now, plan later.

Perhaps the IRS overlooked security because it focused on ways to collect personal data. The letter from GOP Senators refers to an IRS proposal for a software system that “captures information from publicly available digital media records.” In other words, auditors want to scour social media or the wider web to find people they can target for audits.

Fee money to the IRS is damaging in itself, but it’s even worse when it’s provided unconditionally to an agency that has no idea who is stealing private tax data.

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Published in the print edition of December 14, 2021.

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