BNA Daily Tax Report recently reported that a California Franchise Tax Board employee disclosed confidential information about the Board’s audits of over 200 corporations. What was most interesting was the method of disclosure. It seems the employee accidentally e-mailed the information to a distribution list of members of the news media, including two BNA reporters. According to BNA, the e-mail identified a number of corporate taxpayers under audit for tax years 2003 and earlier. The names of the corporations, their identification numbers, and the auditor assigned to each case were identified. Notes indicated that several are being audited for possible participation in abusive tax shelters. An FTB spokeswoman told BNA that the employee intended to send the message to himself, but accidentally sent the message to a distribution list that included members of the news media who cover tax issues. This gaffe illustrates that hacking isn’t the only danger to be worried about in this technology age. A simple oversight when selecting a recipient of the e-mail can instantaneously broadcast confidential information to the outside world. There are many possibilities for e-mail causing problems that simply didn’t exist in the strictly paper world. For example, at my company years ago, an individual wrote a blistering e-mail intended to tell his boss that he deserved a substantial raise, detailing all he had done, criticizing the company, and listing his current salary and salary demands. By mistake, he inadvertently sent out the e-mail to an address that included all the employees in the company whose last name began with A through M. There are other more common instances, such as when you get an e-mail and compose a critical follow-up of the e-mail that you want to send to a fellow employee and you end up mistakenly sending the follow-up to the original sender of the e-mail because you hit “Reply” by mistake, rather than “Forward.” Technology is wonderful, but it is important to understand that it also means a need for an increased awareness, and that added safeguards must be put in place. It is scary that what in the paper age was difficult to do now can be done by a simple inadvertent touch of a keyboard. P.S.: Please let me know if you have special e-mail safeguards in place at your firm.
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