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PILLA TALKS TAXES - Featured Article
_________________________________________ 

HOW THE IRS WILL LEVERAGE ITS
MASSIVE INFORMATION

Big Data Meets Big Government 

by Daniel J Pilla  

 

One of the reasons that identify theft is considered by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to be the crime of the century—and why I maintain that it cannot be stopped—is because of the IRS. The IRS makes more and more demands for more and more information about more and more aspects of people’s businesses and private lives every day. There is no such thing as personal privacy these days. That the IRS sends citizens a so-called Privacy Act Notice” in every one of its mailings is a farce. The IRS lays more of a claim to more of your data without court authority than any other government agency. And to make matters worse, they share the data with any other federal, state or local government agency claiming an interest, including foreign governments.

 
A River of Data

This year alone, there will be about 152 million individual tax returns filed with the IRS. There will be roughly another 100 million business tax returns filed. There will be millions more miscellaneous tax returns, including trust, estate and gift tax returns. And on top of that, over 3.6 BILLION information returns (Forms W-2, 1099, etc.) will be filed with the IRS over the next couple of weeks. There is quite literally a river of data flowing into the agency every year. The flow cannot be stopped, and what’s worse, as far as the IRS is concerned, they need even more data.

For example, one of the six Strategic Goals” presented in the IRS’s 2018-2022 Strategic Plan is to increase its access to data, and use that data more effectively to drive its agency-wide decision making, as well as case evaluations and selections for enforcement purposes. See: IRS Publication 3744 (4-2018). This is consistent with the previous five-year plan, which presented the overarching goal of becoming a data driven agency.”

Indeed, the IRS is awash in data. The 2018-2022 Strategic Plan boasts that the IRS’s volume of data was 100 times larger in 2017 than it was ten years prior. In 2018, the IRS Criminal Investigation unit alone collected 1.67 petabytes of data from various sources. A petabyte is 1,099,511,627,776 bytes, or 1,024 gigabytes of data. I’m told that approximately 900,000 plain text files can fit into a single gigabyte. The number of users in the IRS with access to that data has increased 23 times (Strategic Plan, pg 19) in the past ten years.

Managing Massive Data

How do you manage, process and assimilate such a massive amount of data to the point where it becomes usable? The 2018-2022 Strategic Plan expresses the goal to invest in analytics and visualization software and tools, and develop processes to support analytics in IRS operations” (Strategic Plan, pg 20). The end game is presented in these words:

Advancements in how data is collected, stored, accessed and analyzed will allow us to deploy data better. We’ll standardize our data processes and protocols and encourage collaboration among all IRS business units. Increased interoperability of data systems and sources will enhance the secure and seamless flow of data to enable greater authorized access to information. We’ll invest in training to develop more advanced analytics skill sets across the IRS, and use data to improve our business processes. Strategic Plan, pg 19.

The investment in analytics was recently undertaken—in a big way.


Big Government, Meet Big Data

On September 27, 2018, the IRS entered into a contract with Palantir Technologies of Palo Alto, CA, to handle the task of data assimilation. The contract calls for Palantir to provide hardware, software and training to IRS employees to capture, curate, store, search, share, transfer, perform deconfliction, analyze and visualize large amounts of disparate structured and unstructured data.” IRS Contract Proposal, Performance Work Statement, January 11, 2017, pg 1.

Palantir is to build and train the IRS to use a unified supercomputer to:

search, analyze, visualize, and interact with a wide variety of disparate data sets so users will be able to leverage the platform to perform advanced analytics, such as link, pattern, statistical, behavioral, and geospatial analysis on an investigative platform that is scalable and interoperable with existing IRS equipment and systems. Ibid, pg 2.

What kind of data are we talking about? The contract proposal specifies the following data formats:

·         Oracle, MySQL, and PostgreSQL databases;

·         Delimited files (.csv, .dsv, .log, or .txt);

·         Excel files (.xls, .xlsx);

·         GraphML files (.graphml, .xml);

·         IVML files;

·         Email files (.eml, .pst, .mbox, .msg, .ost, .txt); and

·         PCAP files (.pca, .pcap, .pcp). Ibid, pg 20.

Ingesting Massive Amounts of Data

The contract proposal goes on to state exactly what the IRS is looking for. The need is for an analytical platform with a strong storage and indexing power allowing for rapid integration and analysis of ultra-large scale data sources.” Ibid, pg 2. Specifically, the system must meet the following criteria:

·         Allow for the rapid ingestion of massive amounts of data.

·         Users should be able to immediately use the imported data in the imported format to perform queries, analysis and identify links.

·         Allow users to drill down on massive amounts of disparate data to find connections.

·         Provide algorithms and capabilities that identify the key players and their roles for the user.

·         Allow users to visualize connections from millions of records with thousands of links by grouping data visualization by the commonalities and roles. Ibid, pg 20.

This system is intended to allow the IRS to meaningfully link tens of millions of tax returns, billions of information returns, and trillions of bank and credit card transactions, phone records, and even social media posts. For example, if a U.S. citizen moves money from a Swiss bank to some other offshore bank, then uses credit or debit cards to spend the money in the U.S., Palantir’s software can link those transactions. It could also flag a person whose tax return shows relatively low annual income but whose social medial posts indicate something entirely different. A 2015 IRS privacy report reveals that since 2013, Palantir has had access to personal information including passport numbers, text messages, criminal histories, and mothers’ maiden names. Case Lead Analysis, PIA ID No. 1120, July 28, 2015.

This is exactly the kind of data analysis it will take to establish the IRS’s so-called up-front tax system,” which I describe at length in chapter 2 of How to Win Your Tax Audit. Under that system, the taxpayer is essentially removed from the tax preparation process because the IRS knows everything there is to know about your personal, business and financial affairs to the point where they prepare the return for you. How’s that for tax simplification?

The Cost of Spying

Since 2004, Palantir provided the federal government with various software platforms for the CIA, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Defense. All of it is related directly to enhancing the government’s data analysis capabilities.

The IRS began working with Palantir in 2013. The agency spent $30.8 million on a five-year contract, and at that time granted Palantir access to files for more than 1 million people, according to a July 28, 2015 audit report. That contract provides the IRS with access to spy software for use by Special Agents (criminal investigators) to generate leads, identify schemes, uncover tax fraud, and conduct money laundering and forfeiture investigative activities.” Case Lead Analysis, PIA ID No. 1120, July 28, 2015, pg 4. 

As far as the IRS’s September 2018 deal is concerned, the federal government will pay Palantir $98,750,546.94 over seven years to fulfill the contract. My question is, why the extra 94 cents? 

 

This is a portion of an article from the January 2019 issue of Pilla Talks Taxes Newsletter. Subscribers to Pilla Talks Taxes are able to read the full article and rest of the newsletter when they log into their subscription account on their non mobile device. http://taxhelponline.com/subscriber-login.html 

      

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ARTICLES FOUND IN THIS 

PILLA TALKS TAXES ISSUE:

 

HOW THE IRS WILL LEVERAGE ITS MASSIVE INFORMATION
    Big Data Meets Big Government

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT
DEDUCTIONS FOR 2018
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Affects Itemized Deductions

IRS ISSUES GUIDANCE ON BUSINESS MEALS
Meal Expenses for Businesses Remain Deductible

JOBS ACT GIVES SMALL BUSINESSES
MORE WRITE-OFFS
Section 179 Deduction Was Expanded
 

THE FRENCH GAS TAX MAY BLOW UP - IN OTHER COUNTRIES

                                       by Merrill Mathews, Ph. D.

 

 

 

 

Missed a prior featured article?

Here are links to some of the favorites:

FIVE THINGS EVERY CITIZEN
NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT IRS CONTACTS

 

LEVY OF SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS

 

HOW LONG DO I KEEP TAX RECORDS?

 

CHANGE IN POLICY ON
ENFORCEMENT OF STRUCTURING LAW

Laws Pertaining to Moving Your Money
from Account to Account

 

WHAT EVERY CITIZEN NEEDS TO KNOW 
ABOUT RETIREMENT FUND DISTRIBUTIONS

The Tax Consequences of Taking Your 401(k) or IRA  

 

"I'M FROM THE IRS... -And You're Going to Jail!"

 

PASSPORTS AND THE IRS
  They Have More in Common Than You Might Think

 

END OF THE YEAR TAX PLANNING
  9 Simple Steps That Can Cut Taxes and Pain

 

AVOIDING PENALTIES UNDER OBAMACARE

 



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