Transparency advocate: IRS disclosed thousands of Social Security numbers

The IRS has publicly disclosed thousands of Social Security numbers on government sites, a transparency advocate is charging.

Carl Malamud of Public.resource.org says that the tax agency, recently under fire for its treatment of groups seeking tax-exempt status, has released Social Security information on a database that lists so-called 527 groups.

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On July 1, Public.resource.org took down information that it had received from the IRS that contained as many as 2,319 Social Security numbers. The group took down that data, online for less than 24 hours, after a request from the IRS, Malamud said.

Malamud told the IRS and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration that the agency needs to more clearly outline how it deals with these sorts of breaches, and called on the IRS to notify those who had their numbers disclosed.

The IRS said in a statement Monday that it "decided out of an abundance of caution" to temporarily take down the 527 database after it was told of the issue last week, and that it is still assessing how to move forward. "The IRS frequently and routinely reminds organizations of the public disclosure of these forms and urges them not to include personal information, including Social Security numbers, in their public filings," the statement said.

The agency is now under new management after it disclosed in May that it had improperly targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

527 groups are tax-exempt organizations that are allowed to raise money for certain political activities, but aren’t allowed to explicitly advocate for or against a particular candidate.

Malamud acknowledged in a recent statement that the IRS’s database of 527 groups is valuable to both journalists and the public at large, and said his group was conflicted about asking for the database to be taken down temporarily.

But Public.resource.org also called the IRS’s efforts “unprofessional and amateur,” and said the agency “has indulged too often in bad information technology and this habit has become ingrained in the culture and procedures of the Service.”

This post was updated at 7:28 p.m.