In 1997, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) disciplined employees who, out of cu
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In 1997, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) disciplined employees who, out of curiosity, were looking up tax returns of famous people. The employees were not working on the taxpayers’ returns. They were not obtaining information for investigations; they were simply checking to see who made how much income. The IRS fired 23 employees, disciplined 349, and provided counseling for 472. During 1996 and 1997, the IRS investigated 1,515 cases of snooping among its 102,000 employees. By 2007, the number of snooping investigations was increasing by about 400 per year, with employee disciplinary actions taken in about one-half of the cases. About 60 cases per year are referred for criminal prosecution of employees. By 2012, the IRS had implemented an audit program that tracked employee searches of records to detect access in comparison to the employees’ work assignments and whether the files of individual taxpayers that employees pulled up were related to the audit or review functions that they had been assigned. The report concluded that the tracking was deficient in determining authorization for the employees to access certain files and needed to be improved. Is this practice so bad? What is wrong with just looking at data accessible at work? The IRS employees said they did not disclose the data and therefore didn’t violate federal privacy laws. Are ethics and laws the same thing?