In our last post, we briefly discussed the ability the Internal Revenue Service has to assist parental child abductions and the reality that the I.R.S. often refuses to help custody investigations. We also discussed the story of one mother whose child was abducted by her ex-husband and was refused help by the I.R.S. In this post we will take a look at the legal tension between parental child abduction investigations and the I.R.S.’s policy on taxpayer information privacy.
Every year a significant number of parental child abductors file their tax returns and about one-third of tax returns filed by abductors contain the Social Security numbers of missing children. Even though it is not clear why a child abductor would file a tax return, the information that can be gathered from the return is precious. Tax returns contain information on where the abductor lives and includes information such as work history and mailing address. However, privacy laws keep the I.R.S. from handing the information over to investigators.
Privacy laws that were enacted during the Watergate-era to protect confidential taxpayer information contain certain exceptions that allow the I.R.S. to forward information in child support cases. Guidelines that address criminal cases also present hurdles for investigators. Unless a parental child abduction case is a part of a federal criminal investigation the law prevents tax information from being handed over to authorities. Normally, parental abduction cases are within the realm of state authorities and state law. Even when the I.R.S. can intervene in a case, it often chooses not.
The I.R.S. contends that it does work with missing child investigations in that it has its own missing child program that mails photos of missing children to taxpayers. However, missing child group advocates claim that there is a belief that the problem is not real because the child is in one of the parents’ custody. Recent attempts at changing the law has failed out of fear that any dissemination of taxpayer information would only lead to more.
Source: The New York Times, “I.R.S. Sits on Data Pointing to Missing Children,” David Kocieniewski, 11/12/10