ISLAMABAD: Federal Tax Ombudsman’s (FTO) recommendation regarding the data disclosure of a complainant is awaiting implementation by the Federal Board of Revenue.
It was held that any person who, in contravention of section 216 of Income Tax Ordinance, 2001 discloses any particulars of taxpayer’s assessment record is guilty of an offence, which is punishable, on conviction, with fine and/or imprisonment.
Sources said that under the newly introduced Federal Ombudsmen Institutional Reforms Act, 2013, FBR is legally obliged to implement the recommendations issued by FTO after lapse of 60 days. In this regard, a letter has been issued by the Adviser (I&M) FTO to the Secretary Revenue Division, Islamabad. As per recommendations issued in a unique case decided by FTO Abdur Rauf Chaudhry, an astonishing case of data theft will be investigated by Cyber Crimes Wing of Federal Investigation Agency and FBR, involving tax officers, who illegally accessed confidential taxpayers’ assessment record.
It was a unique case where complainant’s assessment record has been accessed by certain FBR officials when they were not charged with conducting any enquiry involving assessment of his income.
Sources said that the provisions of Section 216 of the Income Tax Ordinance, cast a statutory responsibility on FBR to ensure the integrity of a taxpayers assessment record. Maintaining confidentiality of all information contained in the assessment record of taxpayers is responsibility of the concerned office of FBR where the data is stored/maintained.
In this landmark investigation by the FTO office, leakage of sensitive information from the complainant’s assessment record is evident from the fact that direct references have been made to information borne on the complainant’s income tax returns and wealth statements. This shows that the department has not been able to ensure the integrity of complainant’s assessment record and this lapse not only tantamount to maladministration as defined in Section 2(3) of the FTO Ordinance but illegal access to complainant’s assessment record also constitutes data theft under Section 216 of the Ordinance. Data theft in shape of picking tax record of individuals or act of stealing computer-based information is a severe criminal offence also falls under the category of Cyber Crimes. In order to curb the mal-practice copy of the recommendations issued by the FTO has been forwarded to the National Response Centre for Cyber Crimes (NR3C) wing of FIA for initiating criminal investigation into the matter, as per law.
Sources further stated that the FBR has decided to place new safeguards in the database of taxpayers to ensure security of sensitive, confidential and classified data by enhancing existing security features in the electronic systems maintained by FBR.
The FTO issued recommendations to the FBR to conduct enquiry to determine how and why complainant’s assessment record came to be accessed by a number of FBR officials when they were not charged with conducting any enquiry involving him in any manner nor were they involved in the assessment of his income for any Tax Period, devise a foolproof SOP in consultation with the National Response Centre for Cyber Crimes (NR3C) wing of the FIA to protect the confidential data of taxpayers and enforce strict confidentiality of passwords assigned to field officers for purposes of accessing taxpayer’s electronic record, the FTO order added.