Are your state tax records secure?

2013-07-24T21:00:00Z 2013-07-24T21:03:34Z Are your state tax records secure?Kurt Erickson Lee Springfield Bureau nwitimes.com
July 24, 2013 9:00 pm  • 

SPRINGFIELD | A new report finds the state continues to have problems keeping tax information secure.

For the second time in two years, Auditor General William Holland said the Illinois Department of Revenue has fallen short in keeping employees and others from viewing potentially sensitive personal tax information.

“The department has not implemented sufficient physical safeguards to control access to the tax processing areas throughout the department from contractors, vendors and other state employees utilized by the department,” Holland noted in a report issued Wednesday.

Agency spokeswoman Sue Hofer said the agency has beefed up its security efforts, including hiring a chief information security officer and increasing background checks on employees.

“We’ve made major strides,” Hofer said.

According to the audit, taxpayer files were stored on open shelving units throughout the department, which is headquartered in downtown Springfield, three blocks north of the Capitol.

“This information is not secure from potential unauthorized access,” Holland wrote.

In addition, he said auditors requested information for one taxpayer, but didn’t learn until three months later that files had been lost when they were being shipped from Chicago to Springfield.

“The lost taxpayer audit files exposes the department to unauthorized disclosure of taxpayer information and noncompliance with the Illinois Income Tax Act, potentially subjecting the State to legal risks and sanctions and penalties imposed by the IRS,” the audit noted.

Holland said the department’s failure to quickly disclose the fact that the files were lost heightened the “professional skepticism” of the auditors, causing them to re-evaluate their efforts.

The audit also found problems with access to a computer program that tracks tax records. It found it took between two weeks and a month to deactivate the accounts of three people who left the agency.

Auditors also found that nearly half of the employees who have access to the servers did not have documentation saying they’d undergone background checks.

The findings come two years after Holland cited similar weaknesses in the security of personal tax records at the department.

In response to his 2011 report, the agency said security is tight at the facility, citing a new keycard entry system and the addition of 71 security cameras.

In its response to the latest audit, the department said it considers the safeguarding of confidential taxpayer information to be a critical function. It also has received $1 million last year for security upgrades and has asked for $5 million more this year for additional “security initiatives.”

Hofer said the Internal Revenue Service has certified the state’s security measures as “adequate.”

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