The Federal Law currently prohibits the IRS from sharing information with other Federal agents about a taxpayer’s tax compliance or any other taxpayer details. The spirit behind this law was to try and protect taxpayers from facing discrimination on tax-related grounds. Though privacy is highly valued and the law exists to protect people, there have been quite some disadvantages of having this law in place. One of the more recent topics addressing the downsides of this law was in a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that showed that many of the 2009 to 2010 recipients of stimulus packages were actually tax defaulters. The main reason for this was that those who distributed the stimulus packages could not verify the tax-statuses of the recipients (whether or not they had outstanding tax debts) due to the limitations and restrictions entailing the aforementioned law.
A recent bill proposed in the House of Representatives seeks to change this law – at least concerning information that would help identify and locate missing children. If the bill were to pass become law, it would permit the IRS to release tax information about a missing child to agents, attorneys, and other legal personnel who would be working on a missing child case. This IRS help would be very valuable in such cases. Various children’s charities, government organizations, and child activists, including the National Sheriff’s Association and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, have supported the bill.
The introduction of the bill followed a report of a survey that showed a strong correlation between tax returns containing information about missing children and their whereabouts. The report was done by a treasury department in 2007 through a survey of 1,700 abduction cases (in which a third of these cases had tax returns filed containing the Social Security numbers of the abducted children). This means that such information could come in handy in assisting investigators to locate the whereabouts of abducted children because the returns will contain the address information.
Besides this proposed law, there have been other laws that have been passed towards assisting in the recovery of missing children. The Missing Children Act of 1982 generated a register of missing children, which was to be assiduously maintained by the FBI to help in investigations. The Missing Children’s Assistance Act of 1984 established a toll free line to aid in reporting of any information that would assist in cases of missing children. The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 launched a sexual offenders’ registration policy. The Act also amended the penalties for exploitation and kidnapping crimes. Most would agree that privacy laws are very important, clear-cut, and valued. However, when it comes to certain sensitive situations, like missing and abducted children’s cases, one’s stance on the support for privacy laws may change and permit room for some “leeway” in the strict rules. Nevertheless, everyone will just have to wait and see if the bill should ever pass and if the IRS will ever be allowed to disclose taxpayer information to federal entities.