11.3.21 Investigative Disclosure

Manual Transmittal

July 07, 2017

Purpose

(1) This transmits revised IRM 11.3.21, Disclosure of Official Information, Investigative Disclosure.

Material Changes

(1) Editorial changes have been made throughout to update IRM/statute/organizational references and terms. Web and citation references were added or updated to make the text easier to research in electronic media.

(2) IRM 11.3.21.1 – Revised the title to Program Scope and Objectives to properly reflect the information communicated in this subsection. Included important information to conform to the new internal and management control standards under the following titles:

  • a) IRM 11.3.21.1.1, Background – Incorporated background information previously found in 11.3.21.1.

  • b) IRM 11.3.21.1.2, Authority – Added legal authorities governing Disclosure of information in Investigative Disclosures.

  • c) IRM 11.3.21.1.3, Roles and Responsibilities – This IRM is applicable for all IRS employees to help comply with the disclosure provisions of §6103(k)(6).

  • d) IRM 11.3.21.1.4, Terms/Definitions/Acronyms – Compiled a list of frequently used abbreviations and their terms regarding Disclosures of information in Investigative Disclosures.

  • e) IRM 11.3.21.1.5, Related Resources – Added related resources applicable to the Investigative Disclosure process.

All other subsequent subsections were renumbered accordingly.

(3) Included references throughout this IRM section, to the Privacy and Disclosure Virtual Library website as a related resource for this Disclosure Program.

(4) Information from (1) of previous section IRM 11.3.21.1, Background, was incorporated into the new internal controls section 11.3.21.1.1, Background.

(5) Information from (2) through (11) of previous section IRM 11.3.21.1, Background, was incorporated into a new section 11.3.21.2 titled, General Rules.

(6) Previous section 11.3.21.2, Explanation of Terms, was incorporated into the new internal controls section 11.3.21.1.4, Terms/Definitions/Acronyms.

(7) Added Note after Examples in IRM 11.3.21.8.1(4) to state all examples are for illustrative purposes only. Also removed specific names of social media sites and replaced with the generic term, “social media”.

Effect on Other Documents

This material supersedes IRM 11.3.21, Disclosure of Official Information, Investigative Disclosure dated April 27, 2016.

Audience

All Operating Divisions and Functions.

Effective Date

(07-07-2017)

Related Resources

The Privacy and Disclosure Virtual Library can be found at: https://portal.ds.irsnet.gov/sites/vl003/pages/default.aspx.


Phyllis T. Grimes
Director, Governmental Liaison, Disclosure and Safeguards

Program Scope and Objectives

  1. Purpose: This IRM section provides instructions concerning disclosures of return information to third parties pursuant to IRC §6103(k)(6). Disclosures made under this provision are identified as Investigative Disclosures.

  2. Audience: These procedures apply to all IRS employees, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) employees and contractors in connection with official duties related to an audit, collection activity, or civil or criminal tax investigation.

  3. Policy Owner: The Disclosure office, under Governmental Liaison, Disclosure and Safeguards (GLDS) is responsible for oversight of Disclosure policy.

  4. Program Owner: The GLDS office, under Privacy, Governmental Liaison and Disclosure (PGLD) is the program office responsible for oversight of the Servicewide Disclosure policy.

Background

  1. IRS and TIGTA employees are authorized by IRC §6103(k)(6) and Title 26 Code of Federal Regulation (26 CFR §301.6103(k)(6)-1 to disclose return information to the extent necessary to gather data relating to their official tax administration duties or to accomplish properly any activity connected with such official duties.

Authority

  1. The following legal authorities pertain to Investigative Disclosures:

    • IRC 6103(k)(6)

    • 26 CFR §301.6103(k)(6)

    • The Privacy Act 5 USC §552a

Roles and Responsibilities

  1. This Internal Revenue Manual (IRM) section is applicable to all IRS and Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) employees who are authorized by IRC §6103(k)(6) and Title 26 CFR §301.6103(k)(6) to disclose return information to the extent necessary to gather data relating to their official tax administration duties or to accomplish properly any activity connected with such official duties.

Terms/Definitions/Acronyms

  1. The following is a list of the terms that are used in this IRM section:

    Terms and Definitions

    Term Definition
    Disclosure The making known of tax returns and return information to any person in any manner.
    Return information Includes any information, other than the taxpayer’s return itself, which IRS has obtained from any source or developed through any means, and which relates to a taxpayer’s return or to the liability or potential liability of any person under the IRC for any tax, penalty, interest, fine, forfeiture, or other imposition or offense. See IRC §6103(b)(2) for the statutory definition of Return Information.
    Disclosure of return information to the extent necessary A disclosure of return information that an IRS or TIGTA employee, based on the facts and circumstances at the time of the disclosure, reasonably believes is necessary to obtain information to properly perform the official duties described by this IRM, or to properly accomplish the activities associated with those official duties. The term necessary in this context does not mean essential or indispensable, but rather appropriate and helpful in obtaining the information sought. Nor does “necessary” in this context refer to the necessity of conducting an investigation or the appropriateness of the means or methods chosen to conduct the investigation.
    Disclosure of return information to accomplish properly an activity connected with official duties A disclosure of return information to carry out a function associated with official duties generally consistent with established practices and procedures.
    Information not otherwise reasonably available Information that an IRS or TIGTA employee reasonably believes, under the facts and circumstances at the time of the disclosure, cannot be obtained in a sufficiently accurate or probative form, or in a timely manner, and without impairing the proper performance of the official duties described by this IRM, without making the disclosure. This definition does not require or create the presumption or expectation that an IRS or TIGTA employee must seek information from a taxpayer or authorized representative prior to contacting a third party witness in an investigation. Moreover, an IRS or TIGTA employee may make a disclosure to a third party witness to corroborate information provided by a taxpayer.


  2. The following is a list of the acronyms that are used in this IRM section:

    Acronyms

    Acronym Definition
    CFR Code of Federal Regulation
    CI Criminal Investigation, IRS
    FAR Federal Acquisition Regulation
    FOIA Freedom of Information Act
    FTI Federal Tax Information
    GLDS Governmental Liaison, Disclosure and Safeguards
    IRC Internal Revenue Code
    IRM Internal Revenue Manual
    LPTS Linguistic Policy, Tools and Services
    OI Office of Investigations, TIGTA
    PGLD Privacy, Governmental Liaison and Disclosure
    POA Power of Attorney
    SBA Small Business Administration
    TIGTA Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration
    TIN Taxpayer Identification Number
    USC United States Code


Related Resources

  1. The following table lists other sources of guidance related to Investigative Disclosures:

    Resource Title Guidance
    IRM 11.3.2 Disclosure to Persons with a Material Interest Disclosures of return and return information to taxpayers and others with a material interest under IRC 6103(e).
    IRC §7602(c) Notice of Contact of Third Parties Guidelines for providing notice to the taxpayer when the IRS contacts or intends to contact persons other than the taxpayer.
    IRM 9.3.1.3.3 Multiple Letters to Third Parties Procedures on mailing multiple letters to third parties, to solicit information for tax investigations
    IRM 4.2.5.3 Investigative Disclosures Procedures for IRS examiners pertaining to Investigative Disclosures
  2. Additional information may also be found at these related resources:

    • Revenue Ruling 2004-53 : https://www.irs.gov/irb/2004-23_IRB/ar09.html

General Rules

  1. Situations in which IRS employees may make investigative disclosures arise daily. With few exceptions, no special permission or authorization is needed to make investigative disclosures under the circumstances and conditions described in 26 CFR §301.6103(k)(6)-1, so long as the IRS employees are performing official duties relating to:

    1. An administrative appeal

    2. A ruling or pre-filing activity

    3. A negotiated agreement

    4. An examination

    5. Collection activity

    6. Civil or criminal investigation

    7. Enforcement activity or other offense under the internal revenue laws

    8. Certain personnel or claimant representative matters

    9. Preparation for or investigation leading to an IRC §6103(h)(2) proceeding

  2. It is important to note that IRC §6103(k)(6) and 26 CFR §301.6103(k)(6)-1 permit the disclosure of return information in the investigatory process; but, they do not authorize the disclosure of the taxpayer’s tax return, which includes all forms, schedules, statements, and attachments. Also, any taxpayer's information, not just the information of the taxpayer who is the subject of the IRS action, may be disclosed if the conditions of IRC §6103(k)(6) are met.

    Example:

    Fact of filing or the existence of a criminal investigation, are items of return information that could be subject to investigative disclosures.

  3. When soliciting information from a third party during a tax investigation, an IRS employee may not show a taxpayer’s tax return to the third party. However, pertinent data (such as the nature and amount of income, deductions and expenses) may be extracted as necessary from the tax return and used in questions to third parties.

    Note:

    There are special rules relating to disclosures of tax returns and return information to preparers in some situations. See IRM 11.3.2, Disclosure to Persons with a Material Interest, for more information.

  4. Disclosures should not be made to the extent that sufficiently reliable information may be secured in a timely manner without disclosing return information and without seriously impairing a tax investigation.

  5. IRC §7602(c) does not alter the rules and requirements under which IRC §6103(k)(6) disclosures can be made. However, IRC §7602(c), Examination of books and witnesses - Notice of contact of third parties, prohibits the IRS from contacting any person other than the taxpayer regarding the determination or collection of the tax liability of the taxpayer without providing reasonable advance notice to the taxpayer that IRS may contact persons other than the taxpayer. Additionally, IRC §7602(c)(2) requires the IRS to periodically provide to the taxpayer a record of persons contacted by the IRS regarding the determination or collection of that taxpayer's tax liability during the report period. The taxpayer may also be provided a copy of the record upon request. A taxpayer making such a request need not do so under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). He or she may directly request a copy of the record of contact listings under the authority of IRC §7602(c)(2). IRC §7602(c)(2) does not apply to pending criminal tax cases or instances where:

    1. Collection of the tax liability is in jeopardy,

    2. The Secretary determines for good cause shown that disclosure may involve reprisal against any person, or

    3. The taxpayer authorized the contact.

      Note:

      Requests for contact listings while the case is open should be handled by an office appointed coordinator. See IRM 11.3.13, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), for FOIA procedures for processing requests for this information.

  6. Certain violations of Title 18 and Title 31 of the United States Code can be statutes related to tax administration as defined in IRC §6103(b)(4) in some situations, thus allowing access to tax information. See IRM 11.3.22, Disclosure to Federal Officers and Employees for Tax Administration Purposes. IRC §6103(k)(6) disclosures may be made in connection with these investigations as well.

  7. Some situations in which investigative disclosures may be made, while enforcing the internal revenue laws include:

    1. Disclosures to third parties when attempting to locate a taxpayer or a taxpayer’s assets,

    2. Disclosures when interviewing parties to whom IRS has been referred by a taxpayer,

    3. Disclosures to the Small Business Administration (SBA), e.g., taxpayer name, address, and liability to collect a delinquent account on an SBA financed taxpayer. SBA will be able to advise IRS if the taxpayer is in a precarious financial position so enforcement action can be expedited, if necessary,

    4. With appropriate management approval, mailing multiple letters to third parties, to solicit information for tax investigations,

      Note:

      See IRM 9.3.1.3.3, Multiple Letters to Third Parties, for more comprehensive guidelines.

    5. Disclosing outstanding balances of delinquent accounts to third parties when the third party demonstrates a willingness and the means to pay, and

    6. Disclosures to an attorney when a debtor in a collection related matter indicates representation by an attorney, but will not give any information other than the name of the attorney. The employee may contact the attorney and make disclosures within the limitations imposed by IRC §6103(k)(6) and 26 CFR §301.6103(k)(6)-1, assuming the attorney has not already made a written entry of appearance by signing the bankruptcy petition. See IRM 11.3.3.1.6(4), Disclosure to an Attorney-in- Fact.

  8. IRS and TIGTA employees may identify themselves, their organizational affiliation with the IRS (e.g., Criminal Investigation (CI)) or TIGTA (e.g., Office of Investigations (OI)), and the nature of their investigation, when making an oral, written, or electronic contact with a third party witness. This identification may include the use and presentation of any identification media (including, but not limited to, an IRS or TIGTA badge, credential, or business card) or the use of an information document request, summons, or correspondence on IRS or TIGTA letterhead or which bears a return address or signature block that reveals affiliation with the IRS or TIGTA.

  9. Disclosures under IRC §6103(k)(6) do not require accounting.

  10. As discussed in Revenue Ruling 2004-53, Federal, State, and local government employees who receive return information under IRC §6103(k)(6) ARE NOT SUBJECT TO THE DISCLOSURE RESTRICTIONS OF IRC §6103(a) with regard to such information.

    Caution:

    Because there are no restrictions on the re-disclosure of Federal Tax Information (FTI) provided under IRC §6103(k)(6), IRS employees are reminded to exercise caution by limiting the amount of information disclosed to only that which is absolutely necessary in the performance of their official duties

Requirements for Investigative Disclosures

  1. The provisions of Treasury Regulation §301.6103(k)(6)-1 may be summarized as follows:

    IRS employees, in connection with their official tax administration duties, may disclose return information to the extent necessary in order to obtain information which is not otherwise reasonably available in an accurate and sufficiently probative form or in a timely manner, or to accomplish properly any activity connected with such official duties.

  2. Return information may be disclosed to someone other than the taxpayer or the taxpayer’s representative in order to obtain facts needed during an investigation. However, such disclosures of information will be limited only to the extent required to obtain the information.

    Example:

    A revenue agent or special agent contacts a taxpayer’s customer regarding the purchases the customer made from the taxpayer during the year under investigation. The agent can normally obtain the needed purchase information only by disclosing the taxpayer’s identity and the fact of investigation. However, depending on the facts and circumstances, the agent may also have to inform the customer of the dates of the purchases and the types of merchandise involved.

    Example:

    A tax examiner in a Campus in processing a return where no checkbox consent has been executed noticed that the return is missing a schedule. The taxpayer has not responded to repeated contacts about the matter. In this situation, the tax examiner can contact the preparer to secure the schedule without the taxpayer’s authorization, even if the employee has to divulge return information such as the taxpayer’s address or social security number to the preparer.

    Example:

    An IRS Revenue Officer (RO) employee calls the taxpayer to discuss a balance due account. The taxpayer submits Form 2848, Power of Attorney, and asks the IRS employee to contact their representative. The IRS Employee calls the POA’s office asking to speak to the representative. A receptionist, who is not named on the Form 2848, answers the telephone and asks for whom the IRS employee is calling, the taxpayer’s name and the purpose of the call. The IRS employee can provide their own name and title, the taxpayer’s name and only if necessary, the general purpose of the call. The IRS employee should not discuss more than is necessary to reach the representative.

  3. An investigative disclosure must be made solely to obtain information. Return information may not be divulged for the benefit of the recipient or negotiated in some form of quid pro quo arrangement where the intent is that both parties benefit from the information exchanged.

  4. Disclosures of return information in investigative situations may be made only if the information cannot otherwise be reasonably obtained in accurate and sufficiently probative form, or in a timely manner, without impairing the proper performance of official duties. As a general rule, when the taxpayer is aware of the investigation, is cooperating, and is believed to have the needed information, IRS employees should obtain such information directly from the taxpayer or the taxpayer’s representative unless doing so would impair the investigation.

  5. Situations in which information generally will not be available from the taxpayer or will not be in a usable form include:

    1. When corroboration of a taxpayer’s statement or records is necessary;

    2. When the taxpayer’s records are in the possession of a third party and the taxpayer is unwilling or unable to obtain the records;

    3. When it is necessary to disclose return information to persons possessing special expertise in areas such as handwriting analysis, photographic development, sound recording enhancement, and voice identification, and use of an IRC §6103(n) contract is not feasible.

  6. If the accuracy of the information provided by the taxpayer or the taxpayer’s representative needs to be verified, investigative disclosures may be made to third parties to obtain missing or corroborating information.

  7. When determining whether an investigative disclosure under IRC §6103(k)(6) is appropriate, be certain that the disclosure is consistent with the requirements of IRC §6103(k)(6) and the related regulation.

    Caution:

    Depending upon a variety of factors, even information that may already be "public" may still be protected by IRC §6103. Thus, any disclosures of information for investigative purposes should meet the requirements of IRC §6103(k)(6).

  8. Questions concerning investigative disclosures should be brought to the attention of one’s manager or by contacting the Disclosure Help Desk.

  9. The IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 (RRA ‘98), Section 3705(a), provides identification requirements for all IRS employees working tax related matters. In June of 2014 the IRS adopted the Taxpayer Bill of Rights to ensure tax laws are enforced with integrity and fairness and to ensure an equitable process for all taxpayers. For additional information on the Taxpayer Bill of Rights refer to Policy 1-236 or the irs.gov website.

Contractual Disclosures for Investigative Purposes

  1. Situations arise when it becomes necessary to secure the services of qualified experts to assist the IRS during an investigation, examination, or other enforcement activity. Often, such experts will be called as witnesses to testify in tax cases. On occasion, we seek the assistance of:

    1. Outside fee appraisers

    2. Non-IRS court reporters and stenographers

    3. Engineers

    4. Actuaries, or

    5. Other persons possessing special expertise

  2. Authority to disclose return information to obtain such services is contained in Treasury Regulations §§301.6103(n)-1 and 301.6103(k)(6)-1(a)(1)(v). The Privacy Act also protects the returns and return information of individuals. Disclosures made pursuant to the Privacy Act must be permissible under the controlling System of Records routine use (pursuant to 5 USC §552a(b)(3)) authorizing the disclosure under IRC §6103.

  3. Whenever possible, the services of experts for investigative purposes should be engaged under IRC §6103(n) and its implementing regulation, rather than IRC §6103(k)(6) and its implementing regulation. This is because the safeguard provisions of IRC §6103(p) apply to the former whereas the statutory confidentiality protection provisions of the IRC do not apply to the latter. The confidentiality provisions under the Privacy Act may be included in the (n) contract. See Revenue Ruling 2004-53 for additional information.

  4. See IRM 11.3.21.5 for information regarding contractors engaged by the IRS under IRC §6103(k)(6).

  5. See IRM 11.3.24, Disclosures to Contractors, for information regarding contractors engaged by the IRS under IRC §6103(n).

  6. Contracts for expert services under IRC §6103(k)(6) do not have the safeguard requirements of IRC §6103(p) that are applicable to contracts under IRC §6103(n), nor are they subject to the Privacy Act provisions of 5 USC §552a(e)(10) regarding government contractors under 5 USC §552a(m)(1). See IRM 11.3.21.5, Limitation on Re-disclosure By Contractors.

Limitation on Re-disclosure By Contractors

  1. Experts engaged by the IRS under IRC §6103(k)(6) are not subject to the civil and/or criminal penalties for unauthorized accesses or disclosures of return information.

  2. In the case of records pertaining to individuals, criminal penalties may be imposed for unauthorized disclosures under 5 USC §552a(i)(1), which is made applicable by 5 USC §552a(m)(1) only when a contractor operates an entire system of records.

  3. When the Privacy Act does not apply, a provision in the contracts with IRC §6103(k)(6) contractors, which explicitly subjects those contractors to consequences for unauthorized accesses or disclosures of return information, may be the only effective means available to the IRS to utilize civil remedies for limiting possible accesses and disclosures by individuals having special expertise. This includes those individuals described in IRM 11.3.21.3(5) c) and IRM 11.3.21.4(1) where a contract pursuant to IRC §6103(n) is not made.

  4. The Office of the Associate Chief Counsel (General Legal Services) should be consulted on contract drafting issues involving services of experts under IRC §6103(k)(6).

  5. Contracts may include language which will limit further disclosure of return information furnished under the contract.

    Example:

    A contract for the services of an appraiser may stipulate that further disclosure of the identity of a taxpayer and/or the legal description of the property to be appraised is permitted if necessary to obtain information not otherwise reasonably available to complete the appraisal. However, the reason for the appraisal may not be further disclosed. Written approval for disclosures in addition to those authorized in the contract may be provided by the contracting officer. Such written approval shall be requested in writing and shall be given only when it is clearly shown that the additional disclosures are essential to successfully perform the contract.

  6. If it is determined that an expert under IRC §6103(k)(6) should be precluded from making further disclosures, due to the nature of the information or the services involved, contractual provisions may be utilized to achieve this result. See IRM 10.23.2.15, Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) for Sensitive but Unclassified Information and Treasury Security Manual TD P 15-71, Section 8, Nondisclosure Agreement for Sensitive Information.

  7. Contracts containing limitations on further disclosures should also state that failure to abide by disclosure limitations will result in a material breach of the contract subjecting the contractor to damages and/or adversely affecting the contractor’s eligibility to receive future contracts with the IRS.

  8. The possibility that the terms of the default clause contained in Part 49 of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) may be invoked, should be referenced in contracts.

Information Gathering

  1. It is not necessary to obtain investigatory information directly from a taxpayer or the taxpayer’s representative if doing so would impair an IRS investigation.

  2. The third party notification requirements of IRC §7602(c) do not apply when the IRS is seeking information about groups of taxpayers (e.g., a specialized industry or trade). Accordingly, taxpayers who are included in an approved information gathering activity or project need not be notified of this fact. Information concerning these taxpayers may be obtained by IRS employees from third parties without soliciting such information directly from the taxpayer or the taxpayer’s representative. However, if the focus of the investigation shifts to determining or collecting a specific taxpayer's tax liability, then all requirements of IRC §7602(c) must be met.

Use of Return Information on Mailings

  1. The use of a taxpayer's name and address to send a document or package (including courier services) is an inherent part of the mailing process. Displaying other information (e.g., Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) or revealing the fact that the contents relate to an installment agreement) on the cover of the mailing would not ordinarily meet the standards of IRC §6103(k)(6) and its regulation. Since the mail is simply a means to effect delivery, revealing information beyond name and address would ordinarily not be necessary.

    Note:

    IRS is required to simply use prudent and reasonable care in its mailings. For example, use of a window envelope to mail a document would be consistent with policy, as long as no confidential information could be easily viewed by normal manipulation of the "window." It is not necessary to worry about what might be disclosed through candling or turning enclosed correspondence within the envelope.

  2. IRC §6103(k)(6) and its regulation permit disclosures of return information when it is determined that the disclosure is necessary for the IRS's tax administration function. Every effort should be made to ensure that all activities (e.g., modernization efforts, tax forms redesign) implement the practice of removing/concealing Taxpayer Identification Numbers (TINs) or other confidential information from IRS mailings.

  3. Determinations involving uses of any information other than name and address will be made on a case by case basis in order to prevent any unauthorized disclosures of confidential data. Alternatives to disclosure should be considered whenever feasible.

Internet Research

  1. Internet research is a powerful technique available to investigators in today’s electronic environment.

  2. Research of the internet for compliance purposes can involve disclosures of tax information. It is important to ensure that such investigative disclosures comply with the requirements of IRC §6103(k)(6) and 26 CFR §301.6103(k)(6)-1. Additional information is found in IRM 4.2.5.3, Investigative Disclosures.

  3. Following are guidelines for the application of IRC §6103(k)(6) and 26 CFR §301.6103(k)(6)-1 to internet research:

    1. A taxpayer's name and address is "return information" (IRC §6103(b)) protected from disclosure (IRC §6103(a))

    2. Entering on the internet a taxpayer's name and/or address obtained from IRS files constitutes a disclosure of return information

    3. A "disclosure of return information to the extent necessary" may be made in order to obtain "information not otherwise reasonably available"

      1. Disclosure of return information to the extent necessary (26 CFR §301.6103(k)(6)-1(c)(1)) means a disclosure of return information which an employee, based on the facts and circumstances at the time of the disclosure, reasonably believes is necessary to obtain information to perform properly the official duties described by this section, or to accomplish properly the activities connected with carrying out those official duties. The term necessary in this context does not mean essential or indispensable, but rather appropriate and helpful in obtaining the information sought.

      2. Information not otherwise reasonably available (26 CFR §301.6103(k)(6)-1(c)(3)) means information that an employee reasonably believes, under the facts and circumstances at the time of a disclosure, cannot be obtained in a sufficiently accurate or probative form, or in a timely manner, and without impairing the proper performance of the official duties described by this section, without making the disclosure. This definition does not require or create the presumption or expectation that an employee must seek information from a taxpayer or authorized representative prior to contacting a third party witness in an investigation.

    4. Disclosure of a taxpayer identification number, which is return information (IRC §6103(b)), is sensitive as well and should be carefully considered.

    5. The decision to disclose return information while conducting internet research for an official purpose should be made on a case by case basis.

  4. Translation Services. During the course of a tax investigation or in situations involving personnel matters, the translation of non-English language documents may be required.

    1. Employees should not utilize any of the many internet provider translation services available (i.e. Google Translator, Windows 7, etc.)

    2. Placing sensitive information on the internet for this purpose creates risks and vulnerabilities for the Service. The information is not subject to data protections or restrictions from re-disclosure by the end recipient and may not always meet the investigative disclosure requirements.

    3. Instead employees should contact Linguistic Policy, Tools and Services (LPTS) for assistance. This branch supports the translation needs of employees in the course of performing their official duties under Title 26 USC §6103, the Privacy Act of 1974, and the Bank Secrecy Act.

Use of Social Networking and Other Internet Sites by IRS Employees for Compliance Research or for Other Purposes

  1. IRS employees are allowed to search for publicly available information on the internet, which may include publicly-available social media information, to perform compliance-related work. Compliance-related research may include locating taxpayers, identifying assets subject to seizure or levy actions, and identifying other possible unreported sources of income. When performing any type of internet research, you must comply with the disclosure rules in IRM 11.3.21.3, Requirements for Investigative Disclosures.

  2. The discussion of restrictions in this section is not intended to be all inclusive. Internal Revenue Service employees should use prudent judgment and must comply with all other guidance that may be applicable in this area. Employees should proceed cautiously in this rapidly evolving area. If an issue is not clearly addressed in the IRM, they should raise any ambiguities or questions of appropriate use to their managers.

  3. You are allowed to search for publicly available information on the internet to conduct compliance-related work, but you may only use the information provided on the return or other information gathered during the investigation as your search criteria.

  4. You are not allowed to log in with a user ID & password to any social media site in the course of conducting your duties. This means you:

    • May not use your personal social media accounts for compliance-related work while on duty or off duty.

    • May not create a government login or government account on social media sites for compliance-related work or any other reason.

    • May not obtain information from websites for compliance-related work by registering using fictitious identities or by accessing social network websites under the guise of "friending," "liking," "connecting with," or "following" a person or business.

    Note:

    See IRM 11.1.3, Contact with the Public and the Media, regarding IRS social media policy, IRM 10.8.27, Information Technology (IT) Security, Internal Revenue Service Policy on Limiting Personal Use of Government Information Technology Resources, and IRM 6.800.2.11(4), Employee Benefits, Telework (Flexiplace) Program, Computer Security Requirements regarding the prohibition on the use of personal computers to conduct IRS business.

    Exception:

    These restrictions may not apply to Criminal Investigation employees involved in approved undercover activities. See IRM 9.4.8.1, Undercover Operations – Overview. These restrictions may not apply to employees involved in IRS Communications & Liaison work. See IRM 11.1.3, Contact with the Public and the Media.

    Examples:

    Scenario 1:

    An IRS employee is assigned a balance due account for a local insurance company. He conducts an initial analysis before making a field call to the taxpayer’s business. When the IRS employee makes a field call to the taxpayer’s business, the front and back doors are closed and locked. The sign on the front door clearly identifies the business as one belonging to the taxpayer.

    The IRS employee leaves his calling card, with instructions for the taxpayer to call him within two business days. As he is leaving, the IRS employee notes a sign in the window that states “Follow us on social media.”

    After 10 days with no response from the taxpayer, the IRS employee is considering enforcement action. After reviewing the case history notes, he decides to log into the social media page from his government laptop, using his own login and password, so he can see what information the taxpayers social media page has about the business.

    Because the taxpayer has a social media page which may have information about assets of the business, the IRS employee assumes it is acceptable to use his own social media login and password to log on from his IRS-issued laptop to conduct research. Is he correct?

    Answer: No. Though the taxpayer‘s social media account may be accessible contain valuable information to the collection of the delinquent liabilities, IRS policy prohibits the IRS employee from using his personal login and password to conduct research.

    Scenario 2:

    An IRS employee is assigned a balance due account for a local insurance company. She conducts an initial analysis before making a field call to the taxpayer’s business. When the IRS employee makes a field call to the taxpayer’s business, the front and back doors are closed and locked. The sign on the front door clearly indicates that the business belongs to the taxpayer.

    The IRS employee leaves his business card, with instructions for the taxpayer to call her within two business days. As she is leaving, the IRS employee notes a sign in the window stating: “Follow us on social media.”

    After 10 days with no response from the taxpayer, the IRS employee is considering enforcement action. A review of her history notes reminds her that the taxpayer had a social media page which may provide contact or even asset information.

    The IRS employee decides to use her own smartphone to log in to her personal social media page and view the taxpayer’s page.

    Because the taxpayer’s social media page may give her information about assets of the business, the IRS employee thinks it will be perfectly acceptable to use her own personal equipment to log on and research the taxpayer’s page. Is the IRS employee correct?

    Answer: No. Though the taxpayer’s social media account may provide the IRS employee with valuable information, IRS policy prohibits employees from using their own personal equipment to log in to social media accounts and conduct official business. IRS employees should only conduct compliance-related research from IRS issued equipment.

    Scenario 3:

    An IRS employee is assigned a balance due account for a local insurance company. He conducts an initial analysis before making a field call to the taxpayer’s business.

    When the IRS employee makes a field call to the taxpayer’s business, the front and back doors are closed and locked. The sign on the front door clearly indicates the taxpayer owns the business.

    The IRS employee leaves his calling card, with instructions for the taxpayer to call him within two business days. As he is leaving, the IRS employee notes a sign in the window stating: “Follow us on social media.”

    The IRS employee knows that he is prohibited from logging in to any social media sites to conduct compliance-related research on either his personal or IRS issued equipment, but thinks he may be able to find some information on the taxpayer’s social media or personal webpage by conducting a Google search using the taxpayer’s business name, address, and phone number. The IRS employee’s research provides several links to recently cached social media pages. He knows that Google takes a snapshot of each page it examines and caches (stores) that version as a back-up. These cached pages may allow access to pages from a site that would otherwise have to be accessed after registering or a subscribing to the site.

    The IRS employee decides to click the drop-down arrow and link to the cached pages. He knows he can see what information is available and the links will not connect directly to social media. In fact, he can review the information without logging into social media at all.

    Should the IRS employee review the information available through the cached pages and determine through additional State, County and local administrators that provide ownership records (e.g. Deeds, Divorce Decrees, tax records, real and personal property records) and other research if the information will assist in his compliance efforts?

    Answer: Yes. The IRS employee can use the information available from the cached pages to advance his research and case resolution. If the cached page is available, the information contained therein is eligible to be used in the investigation. If, upon clicking on the cached page, it shows blocked, the employee can notate the history and continue with their internet research. Typically, cached pages do not require a login or password to view, and there may be pertinent information on them. However, they may not have the most up-to-date content on the page itself.

    Scenario 4:

    An IRS employee is assigned a balance due account for a local insurance company. He conducts an initial analysis before making a field call to the taxpayer’s business.

    When the IRS employee makes a field call to the taxpayer’s business, the front and back doors are closed and locked. The sign on the front door clearly indicates the taxpayer owns the business.

    The IRS employee leaves his calling card, with instructions for the taxpayer to call him within two business days. As he is leaving, the IRS employee notes a sign in the window stating: “Follow us on social media.”

    The IRS employee knows that he is prohibited from logging in to any social media sites to conduct compliance-related research on either his personal or IRS issued equipment, but thinks he may be able to find some information on the taxpayer’s social media page by conducting a Google search using the taxpayer’s business name, address, and phone number. The IRS employee’s research provides several links to the business’s web page, and he clicks on one of the links. It takes him to the social media page where he can see a great deal of information without logging into social media at all.

    Should the IRS employee review the information available through these social media pages and determine through additional State, County and local administrators that provide ownership records (e.g. Deeds, Divorce Decrees, tax records, real and personal property records) and other research if the information will assist in his compliance efforts?

    Answer: Yes. In this instance, the taxpayer’s social media settings are such that his information is viewable by the general public. That means a viewer who is not logged in to social media can see posts, photos and other information, and that information can be used to advance the IRS employee’s research and case resolution. This is would also provide more current information than what is discovered in Scenario 3.

    Scenario 5:

    During a delinquency investigation, an IRS employee decides to do a Google search on the taxpayer's name to see if there is anything else to learn about the taxpayer. The Google search shows a social media account with a social media feed in the taxpayer’s name, so the IRS employee decides to click on the link. Is the IRS employee correct in doing this?

    Answer: Yes. Social media feeds are frequently captured by third party reporting sources, such as local news outlets, or websites that exist to specifically compile social media feeds. If the IRS employee finds a taxpayer’s social media feed after conducting a Google search, he can view the social media account profile and social media stream of the individual’s publicly available social media feed by clicking on the link provided through Google or some other search engine. However, the IRS employee may not log into social media or “follow” the social media feed. If the feed is blocked, the employee can make note of it in the case history and continue with their Internet research.

    Scenario 6:

    During a delinquency investigation of a local bakery, an IRS employee decides to do a Google search on a taxpayer’s business name to see if there is anything else to learn about the taxpayer. The search shows a social media account with a social media feed in the taxpayer’s name, so the IRS employee decides to look at the profile and social media feed. One of the posted “feeds” includes a hashtag, “#AnnualBakeSale” that may provide additional relevant information. The IRS employee clicks on that hashtag to see what information it reveals. Is the IRS employee correct in doing this?

    Answer: Yes. If, during a Google search using return information, the IRS employee discovers a social media feed for the taxpayer, he/she may look at the social media feed and click on any hashtags embedded in feeds that could provide additional information. However, the IRS employee may not log in to social media or “save” the hashtag search for future reference.

    Note:

    All examples are for illustrative purposes only, access to most types of social media are blocked by CyberSecurity. Employees do have limited personal permissible access to LinkedIn and GovLoop.

  5. If, during your internet research on social media websites, you find information that is not relevant or will not aid in resolving the identified issue, you should not retain it. This will assist in IRS’s compliance with the Privacy Act and the IRS Privacy Principles. See IRM 5.1.1.2, Paper Case Files and Records Maintenance and IRM 11.3.14.7, Privacy Principles.

  6. IRM 5.1.18.2, Locator Services Program, and IRM 5.1.18.3, Performing Research on the Internet/Intranet, contain information about the use of locator services, including internet research, and disclosure and privacy considerations when conducting internet research.

  7. Other references related to the use of or access to internet sites for investigative or other purposes are in the IRMs listed below. Questions about the interpretation and application of your specific function’s internet and social networking research rules should be directed to your manager.

    • IRM 9.4.2.4, Investigative Computer Databases, Networks and Other Electronic Storage Media

    • IRM 5.1.30, Resolution-directed Approach to Casework

    • IRM 4.10.4.3.7, Minimum Income Probes: E-Commerce Income

    • IRM 4.71.1.10.5, Disclosure Rules – Obtaining Taxpayer Information from Internet Sites

    • IRM 11.1.3.3(3), Media Responsibilities when using social media tools in off-hours or for personal reasons.

  8. IT Cybersecurity policy specifically prohibits access to and the use of social networking sites on IRS computers, unless the employee receives proper authorization to access such sites in the performance of his/her duties. Even if you obtain authorization to access social networking sites to perform your official duties, you are still prohibited from personal communication on blogs and social networking sites or platforms. See IRM 10.8.1, Information Technology (IT) Security, Policy and Guidance, IRM 10.8.27.3, Internal Revenue Service Policy on Limited Personal Use of Government Information Technology Resources, Specific Requirements, and IRM Exhibit 10.8.27–1, Prohibited Uses of Government IT Resources.