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IOWA CONGRESSMAN QUESTIONS IRS ON REPORTED RELEASE OF 100,000 AMERICANS' SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS

Latham Authors Letter to Agency Requesting Answers in Response to Latest Incident in ‘Disturbing Pattern of Mismanagement’

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Washington, Jul 10, 2013 | Chris Deaton (202-225-5476) | comments
Iowa Congressman Tom Latham has authored a letter to acting Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Daniel Werfel seeking explanation for the unauthorized public disclosure of as many as 100,000 Social Security numbers of American citizens associated with Section 527 political organizations, and the agency’s procedures for handling such data.

The issue came to light in a National Journal story published Monday afternoon, in which it was revealed that the independent transparency group Public.Resource.org had audited the IRS and discovered that the agency had posted “the Social Security Numbers of tens of thousands of Americans on government websites.” It was only after the organization alerted the IRS to the matter that the agency decided to temporarily hide the Section 527 database containing the sensitive data from public view.

Latham said he was alarmed by what is simply the latest blunder at the scandal-plagued agency, and that the public deserves answers.

“This example of gross incompetence at the IRS is yet another error that makes you wonder who, if anyone, is in control over there,” Congressman Latham said. “Agencies like the IRS handle highly sensitive, personal data of every taxpaying American, and to be so loose with that information is just about inexplicable. Still, I join with millions of Iowans and Americans requesting an explanation for this latest violation of the public’s confidence. Everyone not only deserves to have answers, but also a newfound trust in an increasingly untrustworthy government.”

The letter authored by Latham is currently being circulated among colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives for co-signatures and will close tomorrow. A link to the audit document, which according to Public.Resource.org was furnished to the IRS and senior White House officials, can be found here: https://bulk.resource.org/irs.gov/eo/doc/irs.gov.20130702.pdf.

Below is the draft text of the Latham letter.

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Dear Commissioner Werfel:

We are writing to express our serious concerns regarding reports that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) permitted up to 100,000 Social Security numbers to be openly posted on government websites accessible to the public. Reports indicate that it wasn’t until your agency was alerted earlier this month to the fact that a significant number of Social Security numbers were posted on IRS.gov that your agency removed public Web access to the records in question.

The American people are justifiably troubled by this further breach in privacy by your agency, based on the numerous concerns raised about the IRS over the past several weeks. These concerns form a consistent and disturbing pattern of mismanagement and unprofessionalism that is unbecoming of federal officials — especially those who are trusted to handle the sensitive, personal information of Americans. As such, we are seeking a full and accurate accounting of the exact circumstances surrounding the recent divulgence of Social Security numbers from individuals involved with Section 527 political organizations. We ask that you respond to the following questions:

  • Who and what department within the IRS is responsible for maintaining the Section 527 database?
  • What is the procedure for documenting and publishing the forms included in the database?
  • It is our understanding that the IRS has taken the position that by law it cannot remove sensitive personal information before making it publicly available. How is this reconciled with the official statement of the Office of Management and Budget, which states: “As is required by the Privacy Act, the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), and other laws and policies, each agency must take appropriate steps necessary to protect personal information from unauthorized use, access, disclosure or sharing” (Office of Management and Budget, M-05-08, Designation of Senior Agency Officials for Privacy).
  • Is there a policy in place to address the situation when Social Security numbers are improperly disclosed on public filings? If not, will a policy be created in light of this situation? If so, will that policy be formulated by the IRS, or will another branch of government’s oversight personnel be involved?
  • Will the IRS be taking any actions to protect those individuals whose information was leaked? What is the potential risk for donors whose information was leaked, and will they be contacted regarding this issue? What recommendations would the IRS make for those individuals now at risk to actively protect themselves from identity theft or other types of fraud?

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your prompt response.

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(Link: http://latham.house.gov/UploadedFiles/Rep_Latham_letter_to_IRS_-_July_2013.pdf)
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