In the wake of yet another governmental gaffe involving the mishandling of private records -- the Commerce Department announced last month that it had lost about 4 percent of its laptops over the course of the last five years -- a federal report says that the Internal Revenue Service could do a better job with its own controls. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reviewed the procedures put in place by the Office of Privacy and Information Protection to ensure that the IRS’s computer systems and employees adhere to privacy regulations and recommended a number of improvements. The agency processes and maintains taxpayer information in computer systems for taxpayers. In 2004, the personal information contained in more than 130 million individual taxpayers’ income tax returns was converted into electronic format and used in over 240 IRS computer systems. The inspector general said that privacy impact assessments -- an analysis of how personal information is collected, stored, shared and managed in a federal system -- have not been conducted for all of those systems, a requirement under law. As of August 2005, the report says assessments were unable to be located for 130 of the 241 IRS computers systems. TIGTA attributed the missing assessments to a lack of emphasis on privacy issues and a decision to not require that all systems be certified and accredited. The full report is available at www.ustreas.gov/tigta/auditreports/2006reports/200620166fr.pdf.
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