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Even when they aren’t trying to do evil, the IRS is dangerous to the American people. According to a recent audit by Public.Resource.org, 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 Public.Resource.org 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.
Public.Resource.org 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.
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.