Another day, another slipup by the Internal Revenue Service.
The incident involves the unwitting exposure of “tens of thousands” of Social Security numbers, according to a recent audit by the independent transparency and public-domain group Public.Resource.org. The identifying numbers were on the Internet for less than 24 hours after being discovered, but the damage was done. And unfortunately, the data-breach concerns some of the most sensitive types of transactions: Those made by nonprofit political groups known as 527s.
Every so often, 527s have to file tax forms to the IRS, which then get added to a database. The database itself is hardly a secret; the IRS has been sending updated records routinely to Public.Resource.org and other public-interest groups, and it’s a favorite among political reporters. But when the IRS told the group’s founder, Carl Malamud, to disregard the Form 990-Ts included in the agency’s January release, he took a closer look at the files in question.
After analyzing the breach, Malamud wrote a letter to the IRS pointing out 10 instances where a social security number was accidentally revealed on the government’s website – just a small sample of the larger breach.
Just the day before, Malamud had filed another letter to the agency describing a problem with the 990-Ts. Of over 3,000 tax returns contained in the January update, 319 contained sensitive data the agency should have scrubbed, Malamud wrote in the July 1 report that he filed to the inspector general’s office. In that mixup, some 2,319 social security numbers – perhaps more – were revealed.
To determine the extent of the exposure, we’ve analyzed our logs and have also analyzed the data received from the IRS. We maintain a privacy registry based on any clicks made on the privacy cover sheet on the top of each return. That registry indicates that 8 clicks were made from 4 unique IP addresses. However, none of those resulted in privacy complaints and could have been made by an automated process.
In addition, we examined our FTP and HTTP logs. We only maintain a 7-day window for HTTP logs and did not see any HTTP-based access that was not from a search engine crawler. For the FTP logs (which indicates bulk download activity), we did not see extensive activity for the January directory, but it was clear that at least one copy of the DVD ISO image (the image of the original DVD) had been transferred.
Public.Resource.org took down its copy of the compromised 990-Ts and replaced them with a clean version that the IRS had sent. But it was another day before “senior White House officials” the IRS removed the files from public view on their end, on July 3.
Calling the IRS’s efforts at data security “unprofessional and amateur,” Public.Resource.org is requesting that the IRS shut down the entire 527 database to prevent further lapses. In an email, Malamud told me that the IRS has, in fact, shut down the database – but that it should also reopen it as soon as possible in the interest of transparency.
In May, the IRS drew fire for singling out conservative political groups for greater scrutiny, leading to the resignation of the agency’s acting director and sparking a slew of congressional hearings.
I’ve called the IRS for comment, and I’ll update if I hear anything.
Update: An earlier version of this post didn’t make sufficiently clear the distinction between the 990-Ts and the 527 database, which are each the source of separate, if similar, problems. Both the tax documents and the database revealed social security numbers; the IRS sent Public.Resource.org a clean copy of the first but didn’t fix the second until Malamud contacted the agency.
A state legislator has apologized for anonymously attacking constituents who support Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling and calling a woman an “industry troll.”
Rep. Jesse White, D-Allegheny, apologized Thursday for online attacks that included saying the woman was “dumber than a box of rocks.”
The woman who was verbally abused, Janice Gibbs, is a 64-year-old resident of McDonald, a small town about 18 miles southwest of Pittsburgh that has seen a boom in a natural gas drilling process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, over the last five years.
“The part that hurts the most is this is my state representative,” Gibbs said. “This is not just me talking to a neighbor.”
A friend of Gibbs, Darlene Barni, said residents have “a binder full” of posts that appear to have been made by White. She said residents have been working for months to confirm suspicions that White was behind attacks that included calling women who support drilling “whores.” She said part of the shock in the community is that White, who’s 34, had so aggressively attacked older people, who are normally treated with respect in rural communities.
Gibbs said the attacks on supporters of gas drilling escalated. She said she used the online name Proud American and then attacks started coming from another person with the tag Prouder American.
“It wasn’t a normal debate. It was a bashing,” Gibbs said of the anonymous attacks on her. “It made me nervous. It kind of scared me.”
White, who recently voted for a House bill that would make online impersonation a crime in cases of harassment, said in a statement that the posts were “an error in judgment that I regret” and that he’ll seek to meet with Gibbs and a local man he acknowledged attacking anonymously. White said he didn’t use government resources while posting the comments to websites.
White also complained that the natural gas industry had made “numerous misleading and personal attacks against me in an attempt to distract people from the real issues” about gas drilling.
TV station KDKA first reported White’s link to the online attacks. KDKA also reported that the anti-drilling website GasRootsPA was registered to White but that the registration was changed an hour after a reporter began asking questions.
White’s spokesman declined to comment on specific allegations.
The Pennsylvania natural gas drilling boom began in White’s district, and over the last few years he’s been engaged in a fight with state agencies and some drilling companies over the proper extent of regulations and oversight.
The Marcellus Shale lies under parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia. Fracking, which involves injecting large volumes of water with sand and hazardous chemicals underground to break apart rock, has made it possible to tap into deep reserves of oil and gas, but it also has raised concerns about air and water pollution.
White said that he won’t stop asking tough questions about gas drilling to ensure that “we’re developing our natural resources in a responsible way that generates an economic benefit to our community but also protects the people who live and work here.”
The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, declined to comment on White’s behavior.
Seadon Henrich, a 21-year-old former animal shelter worker, was charged Thursday after he allegedly had sex with four dogs and then posted photos of the acts online.
According to police Henrich had sexual relations with four dogs at the Wake County Animal Shelter in Raleigh. The alleged sex acts reportedly took place over an 18 month period between May 2011 and November 2012.
Investigators say Henrich began working at the center as a volunteer, but was hired on as a full time employee. After leaving the agency for a brief period, Henrich reportedly returned as a volunteer who worked alone at the center during the night.
On at least four occasions, Henrich “willfully and feloniously did commit the abominable and detestable crime against nature with a dog” according to the arrest affidavit.
Henrich then allegedly took photos of himself molesting the dogs and uploaded the images to the Internet.
He was booked into the Wake County Jail and charged with four felony counts of crime against nature and three felony counts of disseminating obscenity. His bail has been set at $70,000.
A teenager accidentally shot himself in the head in front of horrified users on an internet video chat room.
Trevor George, 19, was posing holding a revolver to his head when he pulled the trigger, killing himself.
Tragically, most of the users in the chat room did not know Nebraska teen’s real name or where he lived, leaving them unable to call for help as he lay dying.
Following a three-month investigation, police in Bellevue have concluded that George’s death was accidental and not suicide.
Witnesses in the Tinychat video chat room told police the straight A university student had previously held a gun to his head as a joke but it had never been loaded.
Captain David Stukenholtz, of Bellevue Police, reportedly said: “He has a history of simulating this event.
“This time, for whatever reason, there was a bullet in the chamber of the gun that he did not get out of there.”
The horrific incident was eventually reported by a Florida man who knew George’s real identity after seeing people discussing the shocking incident the next morning.
One user called “Strawman” wrote: “I talked to him in his last seconds. I didn’t realise he was dying.”
The teenager went by the aliases of TZIF and Jesus online, according to 6 News. He lived with his parents in the Bellevue suburb of Omaha.
His parents were at home at the time of the incident but did not hear the gun fire and did not know their son was dead until police arrived to investigate the Florida man’s 911 call.
Police added that the Bellevue University student was not bullied or dared into shooting himself and did not appear to be depressed.
Sesame Street viewers have long speculated lovable roomates Bert and Ernie are gay, although its creators have never confirmed it.
Now, an online campaign is bidding to make the rumoured relationship official.
‘Let Bert & Ernie Get Married On Sesame Street’, a petition at change.org started by Illinois resident Lair Scott, has already gained over 1,100 signatures.
It comes weeks after New York became the sixth, and largest, state to legalise gay marriage on June 24.
Questions have been raised over Bert and Ernie’s sexuality since the muppet duo first appeared on the small screen in 1969.
And since they live on Sesame Street in New York City, it would now be legal for them to get married.
The petition letter reads: ‘In this horrific age of LGBT kids taking their own lives, they need to know that they ARE BEAUTIFUL and their lives are worth living. Aside from those that are committing suicide, the bullies that facilitate these tragedies need to learn that homophobia is NOT okay. They need to know that acceptance of their fellow human beings would indeed plant a seed of peace that will reverberate throughout the world.
‘We are not asking that Sesame Street do anything crude or disrespectful by allowing Bert & Ernie to marry. It can be done in a tasteful way. Let us teach tolerance of those that are different. Let Sesame Street and PBS Kids be a big part in saving many worthy lives.’
In less than seven days time, 1,137 people had signed the petition at press time.
But having muppets marry on a children’s programme, albeit one known for its progressive statements, has sparked a heated debate.
Sesame Street has previously introduced a Latina Muppet and an HIV-positive Muppet.
But opponents of the new petition say that having Bert and Ernie suddenly marry after 40 years could confuse children. Others argue it’s too political a move for a pair of muppets who were created to be in a platonic relationship.
Petitions opposing the effort have even been launched since it’s gained steam. ‘Lair Scott: Drop the petition, to see Bert & Ernie getting married’ had gained a paltry three signatures in comparison at press time.
A spokesman for Sesame Workshop wrote in a statement: ‘(Bert and Ernie) were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves.
‘Even though the Sesame Street Muppets… possess many human traits and characteristics, they have no sexual orientation.’
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BigGovernment.com and BigJournalism.com have reported throughout the morning about the emergence of new details in the Weinergate saga, after a young woman came forward with new information that tends to undermine severely the theory that Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) was the victim of a “prank” or a “hack.”
The following photograph, reminiscent of that posted by former Rep. Chris Lee (R-NY) on Craigslist earlier this year, was allegedly sent to the young woman on Friday, May 20, 2011 via a Yahoo! email address that she claims was an alternate alias for Rep. Weiner:
The array of images behind the shirtless congressman include several apparently identifying portraits, including a photograph that appears to be of Rep. Weiner with former President Bill Clinton (at above right, behind the left shoulder).
A Google search for the email address Rep. Weiner allegedly used on that occasion yields an invisible Yahoo! profile with images that appear to be a repository for some of Rep. Weiner’s personal photographs.
The profile automatically provides what appear to be the last three uploaded photographs in thumbnail form. Below is a screen grab taken yesterday from that page:
On Wednesday, May 18, 2011, Rep. Weiner sent an email to the young woman from that same Yahoo! email address that included the now-infamous grey underwear photograph (attached to the email as “package.JPG”):
Later that same day, apparently after receiving several images from the young woman, Rep. Weiner allegedly sent another photograph to her from the same Yahoo! email address.
That photograph (attached to the email as “ready.JPG”) is extremely graphic, and leaves nothing to the imagination.
Earlier this morning, BigGovernment.com and BigJournalism.com revealed that a woman had come forward with what she claims are intimate photographs, chats, and emails that she allegedly exchanged with Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY).
The following photograph was allegedly sent to the young woman from AnthonyWeiner@aol.com via BlackBerry on Wednesday, May 4, 2011, under the subject, “Me and the pussys” (note cats in background):
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