Despite repeated warnings by IRS officials over many years, IRS employees still are getting nabbed for snooping through confidential taxpayer records without authorization. In some cases, IRS workers were curious about an ex-spouse or neighbor, but in at least one case, an employee was paid by an outsider for information that was used by identity thieves. According to interviews with Treasury officials and a new report, hundreds of IRS workers were disciplined in the year ended Sept. 30 for breaking the rules, and some have even faced prosecution.
Illegal browsing has long been a problem at the IRS, even after Congress enacted tough taxpayer-privacy legislation in the late 1990s. Government officials and lawmakers take the issue seriously since the confidentiality of taxpayer records is considered a bedrock principle of the U.S. tax system. Snooping has persisted even though IRS officials frequently warn workers in strong terms not to tap into the agency's computers to look at confidential taxpayer information without an official tax-administration purpose.