[Politech] Privacy villain of (last) week: the IRS [priv]

From: Declan McCullagh (declan@private)
Date: Mon Apr 19 2004 - 20:32:33 PDT

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    -------- Original Message --------
    Subject: [NCCP] Privacy Villain: IRS
    Date: Fri, 16 Apr 2004 19:43:12 -0400
    From: J Plummer <jplummer@private>
                           Privacy Villain of the Week:
                                      The IRS
    Did you file intimate financial details with the Internal Revenue
    Service yesterday? Have you ever paused to wonder what happens with that
    sensitive information after it gets to the P.O. Box in Memphis or Puerto
    According to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, a lot
    happens. The JCT publishes information provided by the IRS on how many
    times each year IRS shares taxpayer information with others.
    <http://www.house.gov/jct/> According to the Disclosure Report for 2003
    released earlier this month, the total for last year was 3,744,087,686.
    That's more than ten times for every man, woman and child in the United
    Now, about two-thirds of that total is accounted for by disclosure to
    the individual states. The report says these 2.4 billion disclosures are
    to state tax authorities for the purpose of administering state tax
    laws. Why the states need more than eight data-dumps for each person
    living in these United States is unclear, however. The vast majority of
    these state disclosures were taken from "Master File tapes," apparently
    something of an automated process.
    More than 61,000 disclosures were made to criminal investigators in
    various federal agencies and US Attorney offices, up more than 30
    percent from 2002. These were not automated "tape" disclosures, however,
    but rather "disclosures made by furnishing transcripts of records,
    permitting inspection of records, furnishing photocopies of records,
    oral disclosures, and disclosures by means of correspondence without
    furnishing a copy of the record."
    Meanwhile, 1.14 billion disclosures were made to the Census Bureau so
    that pointy-headed bureaucrats can engage in social-engineering schemes
    designed to undermine the free market choices individuals make in their
    daily lives.
    2.47 million disclosures were made to the Department of Agriculture so
    that that Department's bureaucrats could actively work to control the
    market for food, which results in higher prices for consumers at the
    grocery store.
    And 2.3 million disclosures were made to foreign taxing authorities.
    That kind of activity undermines foreign investment in America,
    resulting in a weaker economy, with fewer jobs, higher prices and less
    And this disclosure habit of the IRS is just one way the bureau
    undermines privacy. A few examples from recent years:
          * The IRS launched in 2002 a new push to dig through credit
          card records in foreign banks looking for American accounts.
          * Last year, the General Accounting Office of the Congress
          found IRS computer systems to be ludicrously insecure and
          vulnerable to hackers.
          * In 2000, Privacy Journal caught the IRS signing taxpayers up
          for junk mail. <http://www.politechbot.com/p-01563.html>
          * A General Accounting Office study found the IRS did not live
          up to the privacy criteria for government websites set by the
          Federal Trade Commission, bombarding users with third-party
          * Congress closed a loophole in 1997 that let thousands of IRS
          employees "legally" "browse"
          through taxpayer records at will, subject to the occasional
          administrative slap on the wrist, but no criminal sanction. If
          you believe the practice stopped in 1997, we have swampland in
          Florida for sale you might be interested in.
    Of course, consumers don't really have much of a choice when it comes to
    turning over sensitive information to the IRS. It's not like you can
    take away your business from the IRS when you become dissatisfied with
    its privacy policy or practices. The tax collectors throw around words
    like "voluntary compliance," but that just means you volunteer to risk
    imprisonment if you don't give them everything they want - including
    your personal information. Which is why the IRS is the Privacy Villain
    this week.
    By James Plummer
    The Privacy Villain of the Week and Privacy Hero of the Month are
    projects of the National Consumer Coalition's Privacy Group. For more
    information on the NCC Privacy Group, see www.nccprivacy.org or contact
    James Plummer at 202-467-5809 or jplummer@private .
    James Plummer
    Policy Analyst
    Consumer Alert
    (202) 467-5809
    Politech mailing list
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