There’s something that totally puzzles me. Government secrets are leaked to the public almost daily by whistle blowers, computer hackers, disgruntled employees, and groups like WikiLeaks. So why hasn’t someone hacked and released Mitt Romney’s tax returns yet?
Yes, I know. There are strict federal laws against such unauthorized releases. Current statutes make it a “felony crime,” punishable with a $250,000 fine and five years in prison, for an IRS employee to release confidential tax information.
But the IRS currently employs about 100,000 workers, many hundreds of whom presumably have access to sensitive records. All it would take is for one of them to break the rules.
Plus, think of all those computer hackers out there who like nothing better than a risky challenge, like cracking into the IRS and perhaps nailing a presidential candidate in the process.
It's noteworthy that three separate government reports released this spring all concluded that there are potentially serious flaws in the current IRS security systems.
Two of the reports came from the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the agency responsible for monitoring the IRS. One report warned that 77 percent of the IRS’s new hires have no reliable documentation confirming that they had been subjected to required background checks. The second found that 34 percent of the IRS's computer servers are not being monitored by the Agency’s own intrusion detection system. In the words of the report, “this puts the IRS network and data at risk.”
The third report, this one from the Government Accountability Office, found that the IRS computer systems, which amass more than $2 trillion in tax collections, lack the adequate security controls to prevent sensitive taxpayer data from being hacked.
So, in this era of whistle blowers, hackers and “disgruntled employees,” I believe there are more than enough security problems here to make Mitt Romney nervous.
Of course, another question is what would happen if Mitt’s tax records were made available to the news media? Would The New York Times or The Washington Post publish tax information it regarded as valid but which it also regarded as being obtained illegally?
The Times, when faced with an almost identical issue in 1971 involving the the Pentagon Papers case and the Vietnam War, decide to go ahead and publish. The U.S. Supreme Court in a 6-3 ruling subsequently backed up the newspaper’s decision.
Would The Times do the same with Romney’s tax returns? That’s a question I plan to put to the newspaper's editors. If I get a response, I’ll let you know.