IRS forms electronic signature policy

As part of the Internal Revenue Service's push to develop an electronic tax filing system the agency next month plans to issue a policy to authenticate so-called electronic signatures on tax returns. Mary Ellen Corridore management and program analyst with the IRS said the agency will identify alternative methods of electronic signatures that would verify the authenticity of the sender of the tax form and will identify principles that IRS personnel will follow for authentication.

Corridore said the Electronic Tax Administration which is responsible for the policy document plans to conduct a survey to identify alternative methods of signatures that the public will accept.

"We're looking at a [Personal Identification Number] code solution for now and in the future digital signatures Corridore said.

Digital signatures enable individuals to attach a verifiable electronic signature to a digital document such as an electronic tax form that will remain with the document through the workflow process. The signature encapsulates data preventing any unauthorized personnel from tampering with the data without voiding the signature.

According to Steve Holden national director of electronic program enhancements at the IRS the agency will consult with industry to field their own views on how best to approach signature authentication.

"One of the things we've got to do is consult with industry on what we're doing early next year and talk about the policy principles and specifically how we might implement it " he said. "One of the other sources of input for industry is to have them give us proposals in the context of the draft request for proposal."

The RFP which Holden said was the only vehicle to evaluate ideas is accepting industry comment on this and other issues until Nov. 17 and the agency target date for releasing the final RFP is Jan. 31 1998.Meanwhile the deputy secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers last week updated members of the Council for Electronic Revenue Communication Advancement a group that advocates electronic filing on the IRS' modernization program.

In his address the deputy secretary said the "improved use of technology is already palpable." About 14 million taxpayers filed their taxes electronically this year - a 19 percent increase - and about 4.7 million returns were filed through the IRS Telefile program - an increase of nearly two-thirds. Telefile allows taxpayers to submit simple returns over the telephone.

"The goal is that in 10 years' time four out of five taxpayers will file their taxes without ever putting pen to paper or licking a stamp " Lawrence said.

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