IRS published online thousands of Social Security numbers

Published time: July 08, 2013 19:41                                                                            

AFP Photo / Karen BleierAFP Photo / Karen Bleier

The Internal Revenue Service mistakenly exposed as many as 2,319 Social Security numbers by posting them on the Internet, which a California-based archivist discovered last week.

The IRS has already come under scrutiny for targeting  conservative political groups more frequently for audits and   wasting  millions of dollars on luxury hotels, alcohol, parody videos and  tickets to sports games. The latest allegations against the IRS  serve as further embarrassment to an agency that has been under  fire for months.

Archivist Carl Malamud of Bulk Resource has long requested that  the IRS publicly release transaction documents of nonprofit  political groups, which are known as 527s, to allow the public to  monitor the spending of charities and other such organizations.  The tax forms that these nonprofit groups are required to file  are then added to a database, which the IRS has often sent to  Malamud for release on his website,

But the IRS told Malamud to disregard the Form 990-Ts, which it  had including in its January release. This update contained more  than 3,000 tax returns, about 319 of which contained sensitive  data, including Social Security numbers.

Once noticed  that the files contained sensitive information on July 2, they  were immediately removed from the site and replaced with a new  version. Bulk Resource contacted senior White House officials to  notify them of the privacy violations, but the administration did  not remove the files from public view until July 3, leaving them  available for nearly a full day.

“The IRS has a policy that even in an emergency, their staff  are not allowed to use e-mail to communicate with organizations  such as ours, a policy that makes it much harder to respond to  incidents quickly,” Malamud wrote in a press release. “The  IRS has recklessly violated the privacy of Americans and  deliberately tried to keep scrutiny away from our worst  charities.”

He noted that IRS data security efforts are “unprofessional  and amateur,” and is now urging the agency to shut down  access to its 527 database to prevent the potential release of  any more private information that may be in the documents.

In a report filed to the inspector general’s office, Malamud said  that four unique IP addresses had clicked on the documents a  total of eight times, but that no privacy complaints had been  made. It remains unclear whether or not any identity thieves took  advantage of the information before it was taken off the  Internet.

“It is time now for the administration to send a tiger team  over to the I.R.S. to help fix their information management  practices,” Malamud wrote. “The I.R.S. has indulged too  often in bad Information Technology and this habit has become  ingrained in the culture and procedures of the Service. It is  time now for the I.R.S. to admit that it needs help. That is the  first step towards recovery.” has  long worked to make nonprofit tax returns more accessible, and  launched its effort at the request of Internet activist and  computer programmer Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide in  January. But the group believes that by mistakenly releasing  Social Security numbers, the IRS has proven its unprofessional  manner and conducted a “serious violation of federal law.”


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