Wednesday, April 1, 2020

NEW COVID-19 PROTOCOLS: IRS AGENTS ARE NOW PERMITTED TO USE EMAIL

IRS Technology Revolution: Nonprofit Tax FormsIn a memorandum to all IRS employees dated March 27, 2020, the Deputy Commissioner for enforcement decreed that in order to assist employees, taxpayers, and their representatives who are working from alternative locations during the national virus disaster,  a “temporary deviation” will now allow the wide-spread use of email and other forms of digital communication.

Specifically, the decree says IRS employees can now accept images of signatures (scanned or photographed) and digital signatures on documents related to the determination or collection of tax liability.

Also now permitted, IRS employees can now transmit documents to taxpayers using SecureZip[1] or other established secured messaging systems.

The categories of documents include a broad range of key IRS operative documents.

Signatures

Under this temporary arrangement, the IRS will accept images of signatures (scanned or photographed) in one of the following file types: tiff, jpg, jpeg, pdf, Microsoft Office suite, or Zip.

The IRS will also accept digital signatures that use encryption techniques to provide proof of original and unmodified documentation on one of the following file types: tiff, jpg, jpeg, pdf, Microsoft Office suite, or Zip.

To eliminate mailing documents to the extent possible, IRS employees can continue to use all existing and previously allowable means of receiving and transmitting documents, such as eFax or established secured messaging systems.

Taxpayer’s Choice

The choice to transmit and receive documents electronically is solely that of the taxpayer. If the taxpayer is not able to eFax the executed document or to provide them through established secure messaging, the taxpayer may use email with attachments to transmit the document to the IRS if the following steps are taken:

NEW RULES

“Trust but Verify”

 1. Before engaging in the temporary liberalized protocols, agents are now required to use the telephone to authenticate the identity of the person who is trying to communicate digitally.

 2. The taxpayer or the representative must be advised on the phone that unencrypted email over the internet is not secure.  They must explain that, except for minimal identifying information in the body of the email, for example, name, last four digits of a TIN, they should keep sensitive information out of the subject line and body of emails, as much as possible, and should use password-protected encrypted attachments via SecureZip as much as possible.

Taxpayers and Representatives Must Include a New Statement of Intent with All Electronic Communications

The new procedures now require a statement, either in the form of an attached cover letter or within the body of the email to the effect,

 “The attached [name of document] includes [name of taxpayer]’s valid signature and the taxpayer intends to transmit the attached document to the IRS.”

IRS Electronic Transmittals to Taxpayers—Need to Call First to Solicit a “Test Email” With Consent to Receive an Email from the IRS

If the taxpayer or representative can use, or has access to email but has no fax machine, the IRS employee is ordered to send an email first with SecureZip or other IRS established secured messaging systems.  The IRS employee is instructed to ask the taxpayer or representative to send the employee a “test email” to confirm the email address, with a statement indicating,

“[Name of taxpayer] consents to receiving [name of documents] by SecureZip.”

Finally, the agent must inform the taxpayer or the representative by phone, that he will be transmitting the document through a password-protected SecureZip attachment.

NO DISCLOSURES IN EMAIL SUBJECT LINES: NEW PASSWORD PROCEDURE

Employees are reminded that sensitive information often appears in email subject lines and employees are directed to use password-protected encrypted attachments and to refer to http://it.web.irs.gov/news/20120713HTLSecureZIPtips.htm and follow the instructions there.

NO EMAILING OF PASSWORDS

IRS personnel are now advised that 12 character, upper and lower case letters with a symbol and a number must be communicated verbally to the representative or taxpayer.

For years, practitioners and taxpayers have lamented the fact that revenue agents and revenue officers have been prohibited from using email. While this convention was observed more in the breach than in compliance, out of sheer frustration, dedicated Service employees including Appeals Officers and Area Counsel employees used it anyway,  recognizing that the 21st century it was imperative that the government do business on the same level as the private sector. It is a sad irony, indeed that it has taken a national disaster to cause this significant change in the way the IRS communicates with the public. Although the new temporary procedures appear to be unduly cumbersome, it is likely that the taxpayers and representatives around the country will applaud this latest effort by the government to take part in the national recovery.


These new protocols are scheduled to expire by July 15. It is hoped that they will not be revoked entirely and that something will remain of the new procedures that will be a permanent change for the better.

[1] SecureZIP is an application for zipping files to save storage space as well as encrypting files with password control to protect information. SecureZIP not only works alone to perform the zipping and encryption functions but also integrates well with Microsoft Office 2010 to facilitate information security in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.