What are we doing to protect taxpayer privacy?


The IRS' Social Security Number Elimination and Reduction Program

To protect citizens from identity theft, IRS is working to identify ways to authenticate taxpayers without the  use of their full Social Security number (SSN).

The requirement to minimize the use of SSNs is based on the following guidance:

  1.  Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-130 PDF, Managing Information as a Strategic Resource, which specifies responsibilities for managing personally identifiable information.


  2. OMB Memorandum M-17-12 PDF, Preparing for and Responding to a Breach of Personally Identifiable Information (PII), which sets forth the policy for Federal agencies to prepare for and respond to a breach of PII.


  3.  Social Security Number Fraud Prevention Act of 2017, which restricts the inclusion of social security account numbers on federal documents sent by mail unless the head of the agency determines that the inclusion of the SSN is necessary.


  4.   Treasury Privacy Act Regulation, which governs how federal agencies collect, maintain, use, and disseminate personally identifiable information (PII).

IRS Strategies to Reduce the Use of Social Security Numbers

The IRS' Social Security Number Elimination and Reduction (SSN ER) Program has made significant strides in eliminating or reducing the use of SSNs in our systems, forms, notices, and letters where the collection or use of the SSN is unnecessary. Efforts include masking SSNs, increasing internal communication to remove SSNs, and concealing SSNs using advanced technology.

IRS Masked Social Security Number

A masked SSN is an alternative to using the complete SSN, IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), or IRS Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number (ATIN). The masked SSN displays only the last four digits of an individual’s identifying number and is shown in the format XXX-XX-1234 or ***-**-1234.

IRS masked and/or removed SSNs on numerous taxpayer-sensitive collection and enforcement-related notices and letters.

  • Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 SSN Reduction

    In FY23, the number of masked notices/letters mailed to taxpayers was 88.1 million. This SSN reduction strategy required planning, coordinating, and monitoring. The IRS’ next phase is to continue masking additional notices that are mailed to taxpayers.

IRS Internal Communications

As part of the communication initiative, the IRS led continuous internal discussions that spanned across the IRS. IRS has created partnerships through collaboration and the exchange of information with other departments to protect taxpayers’ personal identifiable information (PII). The communication initiative was created to expand IRS’ efforts to increase information safeguards and awareness regarding Agency use of taxpayer and employee SSNs.///

  • FY23 SSN Outreach

    IRS continues to publish internal communication to encourage the elimination or masking of unnecessary SSNs in systems, forms, letters, and notices. As a result, each department analyzed all outgoing correspondence to identify opportunities where SSNs could be masked or eliminated. Ongoing communication will continue as the SSN ER program evolves.

IRS Advanced Technology

The IRS began using barcodes with embedded SSNs on notices mailed to taxpayers to protect taxpayers' PII. A barcode is a machine-readable symbol, like a QR code, used as an alternative to displaying a taxpayer’s complete SSN. This advanced technology conceals a taxpayer’s identity and prevents unauthorized individuals from seeing the taxpayer’s PII.///

  • FY23 SSN Concealment
    As a result of using barcodes on notices, the IRS needed to update its internal systems with high-speed barcode reading software to allow its systems to accurately identify and locate taxpayer accounts. This software increases productivity, efficiency and reduces errors as it allows employees to scan a barcode to extract the hidden PII directly via computers.