A pair of congressional subcommittee chairmen are asking the head of the Internal Revenue Service about a recent report that the agency accidentally posted thousands of Social Security numbers on the Internet.
The Web site Public.Resource.org, which specializes in posting government documents in the public domain, discovered the privacy breach and promptly alerted the IRS, as well as the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration earlier this month (see IRS Accidentally Exposed Tens of Thousands of Social Security Numbers). The organization found the IRS had posted a database containing the filings of Section 527 political organizations such as campaign committees. The site discovered the privacy breach on July 2 and notified TIGTA, documented its findings in an audit document, and sent copies to IRS officials and senior White House officials, according to founder Carl Malamud. On July 3, the administration removed the database from public view.
House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee chairman Sam Johnson, R-Texas, and Oversight Subcommittee chairman Charles Boustany Jr., R-La., wrote a letter Tuesday to IRS principal deputy commissioner Daniel Werfel questioning him about the report. The Republican lawmakers asked the IRS to verify the accuracy of reports published by Public.resource.org, which claim that more than 2,000 Social Security numbers included on 990-T forms were released on the IRS’s Web site.
They noted that the forms are filed by political nonprofits filing under Section 527 of the Tax Code. Documents received by the Ways and Means Committee as part of its investigation of IRS targeting showed that IRS senior management knew that the release of sensitive taxpayer information was a risk, they pointed out.
One document, referenced and attached to the letter, includes the transcript of a March 2013 speech delivered by Lois Lerner, who was then director of the IRS’s scandal-plagued Exempt Organizations unit, in which she acknowledged that Social Security numbers were at risk of inadvertent release under current IRS practices. Lerner was the first to reveal the findings of a report from the Tresury Inspector General for Tax Administration that found the IRS had given extra scrutiny to applications for tax-exempt status from groups with "Tea Party" and "Patriot" in their names. The announcement led to a series of hearings in the Ways and Means Committee and other congressional committees, including one in which Lerner refused to answer questions from lawmakers, invoking her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
In the letter, Johnson and Boustany noted, “If true, these reports are especially concerning because the committee’s investigation of IRS targeting of Tea Party groups revealed that the IRS knew about this risk, but did not safeguard against it.”