IRS communication on data disclosure


May 10, 2024

IRS statement to taxpayers receiving Letter 6613 alerting them to the unauthorized disclosure of tax return information by an IRS contractor. The contractor, Charles Edward Littlejohn, pled guilty to the unauthorized disclosure of return information in October 2023 and was sentenced to five years in prison earlier this year.

To begin with, it should be stressed that this incident was unacceptable. Any improper access or disclosure of confidential taxpayer information is unacceptable, and it is completely at odds with the IRS’s values and the agency’s commitment to taxpayers.

We recognize that this incident has created a difficult situation for many taxpayers, including individuals as well as business entities. We also recognize that it is incumbent on the IRS not only to protect confidential taxpayer information, but also to address matters to the fullest extent possible when any such information is unlawfully disclosed.

We write to you today to update you on our efforts in this regard, and to provide to you what information we can regarding this incident, within the confines of the law. We will update you periodically as additional information becomes available.

We note that responding to this incident presents a number of challenges for the IRS. First, because much of the relevant information was uncovered in a criminal investigation, there are legal limitations on what the IRS can disclose. The criminal investigation was conducted by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) and resulted in Mr. Littlejohn being charged by DOJ with unauthorized disclosure of tax information, pleading guilty, and being sentenced to a prison term. In deference to these criminal proceedings, it was only after Mr. Littlejohn was sentenced, in February 2024, that the IRS was able to access information regarding all affected taxpayers. The data set that the IRS received at that point is voluminous and complex, and the IRS has been working with TIGTA to process and analyze this data, including to more fully understand what information, pertaining to what taxpayers, was unlawfully disclosed by Mr. Littlejohn. We are doing this so that we can provide taxpayers with notice of the incident as Section 7431 of the Internal Revenue Code requires, and so that we can take whatever additional steps are warranted to address taxpayer inquiries, interests, and concerns. This has taken some time, which is why we may need to follow up with you through additional correspondence. But there is some factual information that we can provide to you at this stage, which may help you to better assess and manage any risks presented to you by this incident:

  • First, you should note that this incident occurred several years ago. In particular, Mr. Littlejohn admitted that he collected taxpayer information between 2018 and 2020, which he subsequently unlawfully disclosed to two news organizations. Mr. Littlejohn has stated details regarding these disclosures in the court filings in his criminal case.
  • If you are receiving this letter, it is our understanding that Mr. Littlejohn unlawfully disclosed information corresponding to your taxpayer identification number maintained on an IRS database. We do not know – at least not at this point – the full scope of the specific information that Mr. Littlejohn unlawfully disclosed. However, a broad set of taxpayer information is maintained in this database.
  • We have seen no indication thus far that any of this information has been disclosed by Mr. Littlejohn to any persons outside of the two news organizations referenced above, or that these news organizations have disclosed this information to any additional persons (beyond the information that they publicly reported). As may be of particular concern to individual taxpayers, we have not seen any indication that this taxpayer information was used in any way for identity theft or any related type of fraud.
  • We understand from TIGTA and DOJ that the government has recovered the taxpayer information that was in Mr. Littlejohn’s possession.

As noted above, the IRS is continuing to work with TIGTA to better understand this incident, analyze the relevant data, and take appropriate next steps. Among other things, we are continuing to contact any additional impacted taxpayers that we identify, including Form K-1 recipients that may have had their information disclosed. Of particular relevance for individual taxpayers, the IRS has in place screening and review procedures to identify and address potential identity theft and/or tax refund fraud. We also encourage taxpayers and/or their tax professional to review the resources regarding identity theft referenced in our prior letter, and to check IRS transcripts to ensure that taxpayer IRS account(s) do not reflect any unusual activity.[1]

Apart from the measures specific to this incident discussed above, it bears noting that the IRS has taken aggressive action more generally to enhance data security – to ensure, to the fullest extent feasible, that nothing like the Littlejohn incident can happen in the future. We recognize that this does not address the most immediate concerns of taxpayers whose information has already been unlawfully disclosed. Still, in the hope that this conveys to you our commitment to safeguard tax and financial information and to protect taxpayers’ rights, we note that we have developed a number of the protocols and protections that the IRS has put in place in recent years using Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) funding resources and industry and government best practices to better protect taxpayers.

These improvements include further restricting user access for the most sensitive taxpayer data sets; more robust protective security controls; more frequent data reviews; improved firewalls; stronger around the clock data monitoring; new security tools; less use of removable media; tighter email controls; new printer controls and improved retention of data access logs. More information is available here.

Please be assured that this matter in particular – and safeguarding taxpayer information in general – are among the highest priorities of the Internal Revenue Service.

[1] For information on how to request tax account records, please refer to Get Transcript.