While trying to research something both useful and interesting for government clients, I came across a “Pocket Guide for Government Employees” entitled: “Protecting Federal Tax Information.
While the guide was primarily addressing the need for state tax agencies which receive federal tax returns and return information, it reminded me that now many cities, towns and special districts also obtain confidential tax identification information in the course of their daily business dealings with the public. To reduce bank fees, many consumers are paying utility bills online or over the telephone with credit card information. In applying for utility services, residents often must provide social security numbers “for the file” to cities, towns, and special districts. The following is a brief summary of some of the IRS guidelines for avoiding unauthorized disclosure of such confidential information:
• Do not put documents containing confidential tax identification information in recycle bins unless the bin is specifically labeled “For Confidential Information.”
• Do not leave confidential tax identification information on computer screens when you are leaving the computer workstation.
• Protect laptop computers and removable storage media that contain confidential tax identification information.
• Discuss confidential tax information only with those personnel who have a need to know the information for an administrative purpose. Do not discuss confidential matters on coffee breaks, at home, or outside the office.
• Observe the clean desk policy. Do not leave confidential information unattended on your desk.
While each of these items is a matter of common sense, during the workday, employees can become distracted and leave confidential information in plain sight. In the current climate of rampant identity theft, it is important to remind ourselves of the need to handle confidential and sensitive data responsibly. If you are interested in obtaining more information on this topic, log on to www.irs.gov and request Publication # 4761.