Tax Return Privacy Under IRC § 6103

Tax returns and return information have extensive privacy protection under federal law.[1] The Internal Revenue Code states that all returns are confidential and cannot be disclosed by government officials.[2] These government officials include current and former federal and state government employees, local law enforcement, and local agency employees.[3] State employees may obtain returns and return information from the IRS in order to administer state tax laws, but the IRS can limit disclosure to states to avoid identifying a confidential informant or impeding a tax investigation.[4] As a result of IRC Section 6103, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for tax returns will be denied,[5] unless a request is from the taxpayer himself, an authorized representative such as an attorney, or a few other exceptions. Other persons who may obtain returns include spouses and children of taxpayers, in some circumstances; members of a partnership for the partnership’s return; officers, employees, shareholders, and other corporate figures, in some circumstances; and estate administrators, trustees, and the like for returns of deceased persons, trusts, and incompetent persons.[6]

There are a number of other specific situations under which the IRS or other government officials may disclose returns and return information, all detailed in IRC Section 6103.[7] Notable situations for disclosure include for tax administration purposes and for civil or criminal tax investigations.[8] The IRS must follow recordkeeping procedures to keep track of disclosures, including a yearly report and audits.[9]

Similar to IRC Section 6103, state laws govern disclosure and privacy of state tax returns. As a result, taxpayers’ returns enjoy a high degree of privacy protection.

— By Julia Damron, Esq., Barnes Law

Julia Damron is an associate attorney with Barnes Law, licensed to practice law in California.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

[1] “Return” and “return information” are defined in IRC § 6103(b)(1)-(2). See also

[2] IRC § 6103.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] The request would fall under Exemption 3 because Section 6103 explicitly protects returns and return information from disclosure. See;

[6] IRC § 6103.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.