Sen. Isakson on Stolen IRS Data: ‘More Personally Identifying’ and ‘More Dangerous’ Than What NSA Does

By Ali Meyer | June 3, 2015 | 1:40 PM EDT

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.)  (AP)

 

(CNSNews.com) -- Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said the confidential taxpayer information that 104,000 Americans had stolen at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was “a lot more private, a lot more personally identifying, and a lot more dangerous” than “whatever the NSA ever does,” the National Security Agency.

Isakson made the statements at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Tuesday entitled, “Internal Revenue Service Data Theft Affecting Taxpayer Information.”

“You know, I think it’s ironic that -- Senator Roberts made an interesting observation -- but for the last six days the United States Senate has been debating the merit over whether 41 members of the NSA should have access to two phone numbers, the date of a call, and the duration of a call, without any personal identifying information whatsoever,” said Isakson.

“We’re getting ready to take that authority away from them, yet we have the commissioner of IRS talking about 104,000 Americans that had their identity stolen,” he said.  “And when I file my tax return on April 15, they know how much money I make, how much my wife makes, what church I go to, who I give the money to, whether or not I had a casualty loss, where I buy stocks, where I buy bonds, where my money is deposited and how much I owe on my house.”

“So I just want to put things in perspective,” Isakson continued, “that this is an important hearing but that information is a lot more private, a lot more personally identifying, and a lot more dangerous for the average American citizen than whatever the NSA ever does -- and they’re looking out for our physical safety.”

“Our hearing today concerns recent revelations that the Internal Revenue Service was the target of an organized service breach aimed at roughly 200,000 taxpayer accounts,” said Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. “We understand that over 100,000 of these breaches were successful, with cybercriminals obtaining confidential taxpayer information from the agency’s Get Transcript application.”

At the hearing, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen explained that the Get Transcript tool was a new way for taxpayers to view and print a copy of their prior-year tax information. Before this was created, taxpayers had to call or mail the IRS to receive a paper transcript by mail and the process took much longer.

“Because of this breach, criminals were able to get personal information about roughly 104,000 taxpayers, potentially including Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, and other sensitive information,” said Hatch.

“These taxpayers, and their families, must now begin the long and difficult process of repairing their reputations,” said Hatch.  “And they must do so with the knowledge that the thieves who stole their data will likely try to use it to perpetrate further fraud against them. Commissioner Koskinen, put simply, your agency has failed these taxpayers.”

Koskinen claimed that the breach was “complex and sophisticated” and that the IRS has “taken a number of immediate steps” to assist taxpayers in protecting their data.

“While we are continuing our in-depth analysis of what happened, the analysis thus far has f

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.  (AP) 

 

ound that the unauthorized attempts to request information from the Get Transcript application were complex and sophisticated in nature,” said Koskinen. “These attempts were made using taxpayers’ personal information already obtained from sources outside the IRS – meaning the parties making the attempts had enough information to clear the Get Transcript application’s multi-step authentication process.”

“During the middle of May, our cybersecurity team noticed unusual activity on the Get Transcript application,” the commissioner explained. “As they continued to investigate, our team determined that a total of approximately 200,000 suspicious attempts to gain access to taxpayer information on the Get Transcript application had been made between mid-February and mid-May.”

“We recognize the severity of the situation for these taxpayers, and have taken a number of immediate steps to assist the affected taxpayers in protecting their data against fraud that might be perpetrated against them,” Koskinen said. “The IRS is working closely with law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and around the world to prosecute these criminals and protect taxpayers.” 

Koskinen also used his testimony to tout President Obama’s budget request saying that it will help to identify theft and refund fraud.

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