The IRS has recently issued a guideline, Publication 4557, Safeguarding Taxpayer Data, in response to the large number of taxpayer data related breaches. It lays out the basic required actions needed to protect this data and applies especially to all tax professionals. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has legal jurisdiction over all financial companies, including tax return professionals, in this area. Through the FTC Safeguards Rule regulation, it mandates tax professionals develop, implement and maintain a data protection security program to protect client data.
My take on this new guideline is:
As an accountant, many people entrust their sensitive, private data with people like me. It is necessary to keep this data protected, however many firms may not know the proper way to store this information or prevent a breach, so the IRS finally issued these, long overdue guidelines for financial professionals to follow.
So far, the basic protection we’ve had is passwords, but those are very easy to hack as those tend to be very basic things such as names, birthdays and the word 'password'.
And as non-technical tax professionals, many of us do not understand these guidelines or regulations which outline the technical measures needed to ensure data protection. We know these regulations are necessary and fully support them, but need someone to give a clear checklist of what is needed or a template for a plan that fulfills these IRS guidelines or regulations. We need someone to either tell us how to properly set up a system in order to provide the best protection or to do it for us.
My largest concern aside from actually providing the necessary service to protect the data is how good is the customer support. Large companies tend to shuffle support from person to person, waiting hours on end before finally getting an answer to the support I need. Direct support that delivers clear and timely responses on how they protect and ensure security of the data is very critical; as I cannot monitor my own system 24/7.
It’s definitely something every tax professional needs, despite how small or large the company is. And every tax professional must start implementing these guidelines immediately.
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