The Inland Revenue Department is investigating ways to give people Web access to information on themselves, but says there is no set time-frame and it won’t happen if it cannot be secure and cost-effective.
The idea is being investigated in a formal electronic commerce project, which is looking at how the IRD can use modern communication technologies (including financial transactions) to conduct its business. The project developed the department’s Web site, which went online last December.
The site contains practical information such as a tax calendar, frequently asked questions and draft public rulings for public comment. It does not accept inquiries about, or provide information on, specific people or their accounts.
An IRD spokesman says security is the department’s primary concern and no decision will be made about providing such information until the IRD’s security concerns are “satisfied completely”.
The US IRS ran into problems when people accessed confidential information via its site.
Any recommendations from the electronic commerce project (which will report to senior IRD management by the end of June) will be weighed alongside the other activities of the IRD, and the cost-benefit analysis must be “favourable” in comparison.
The spokesman says there is no specific time-frame. Timing will be dependent on the options the research project comes up with. What action follows, if any, will depend on the nature of those findings and budgetary concerns.
The spokesman says it is unlikely the IRD will specify the nature of security measures it adopts.
“This would give information to the people who might want to countermand those measures. Unless we are confident that no risk to taxpayer confidentiality exists, we will not give this sort of access to taxpayers over the Web.
“We are constrained by statute to maintain the confidentiality of this material and we take this very seriously. Unless we can provide the same high level of security on the Web, as we can with our existing systems, we will not be moving into this area.”
Asked about what level of encryption it would be looking at, the spokesman says any comment about technology would be valuable information to someone wishing to misuse it, and he declined to comment further.
The IRD Web site also contains a survey asking what information people want to see from the IRD over the Internet, and whether people’s use of existing IRD services would change if more were offered via the Internet.
The survey asks people to choose which services they would use the Web site for, including filing returns, making payments, research, personal tax information, tax information for business, commenting on rulings/discussion papers and student loan information.
The survey points out that these services will not necessarily be available at any time in the future.
In the US, the traffic to the IRS site increased dramatically as the tax return deadline approached. The IRD spokesman was unable to say if the same thing is happening in New Zealand.
The number of completed requests has been increasing over the site’s four-month life. In the first complete week of operation, it had 1464 requests for a total of 4.6Mb transferred. In the latest figures (from April 21 to 28), it received 6121 requests for a total of 25.7Mb transferred.