Government Database Danger

February 22, 2019

Government databases full of sensitive personal information pose a growing threat. When the government amasses tax returns, banking transaction data, health records, voter information, and other items, it exposes us to dangers from hacking and leaking. Experience shows that federal employees are sometimes—maybe often—sloppy, politically biased, self-interested, and vulnerable to bribery.

The Daily Caller summarizes an apparent leak by an employee of the IRS, an agency which is an ideal target for hackers and leakers. The article has to do with the tawdry Cohen affair, but it shows the ease with which a single bureaucrat can leak data to muckrakers and journalists.

An analyst with the Internal Revenue Service was charged Thursday with leaking the financial records of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen.

An affidavit submitted in the case reveals that John C. Fry, the analyst, placed several phone calls to attorney Michael Avenatti before and after he accessed Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) that had been filed by Cohen’s banks with the Treasury Department.

Avenatti, an attorney for Stormy Daniels, had posted a dossier of Cohen’s financial reports on May 8, 2018.

… According to an FBI agent’s affidavit, Fry first accessed the IRS’s database of SARs on May 4, 2018 and downloaded five documents related to Cohen. “Immediately” after downloading the reports, Fry called a phone number associated with Avenatti, the agent said.

Minutes after that phone call ended, Fry conducted several more searches of Cohen’s records.

… The affidavit, signed by Special Agent Linda Cielsak, also detailed contacts between Fry and New Yorker reporter Ronan Farrow, who wrote an article on May 16, 2018 about Cohen’s financial records. Farrow quoted Fry anonymously, and asserted that the IRS agent leaked the Cohen records out of concern that they had been improperly removed from the IRS’s databases as part of what he believed to be a cover-up.

It was later reported that Cohen’s records had been removed from the general database because they were part of ongoing investigations, not because of a cover-up.

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