Senate Bill Would Allow IRS to Help Police Locate Children Abducted by Parents

If a proposed bill is passed by Congress, the Internal Revenue Service would be empowered to provide to local law enforcement agencies the name of anyone claiming an abducted child as a dependent on his/her tax return.  At present, the IRS is prohibited by privacy regulations from providing that information.  Read about it here (Knoxville News, 1/12/11).

In 2007, the U.S. Treasury Department looked at the social security numbers of 1,700 children reported to have been abducted by a parent.  Over one-third of them had been claimed as a dependent on an adult’s tax return.  But the agency was prohibited from passing the information about the adults to law enforcement officials.

In short, the IRS has information that could result in the arrest of child abductors and the return of children to the parents who were left behind.  But it’s prohibited by law from sharing that information.

The proposed law allowing the IRS to pass that information to local law enforcement agencies is sponsored by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D. – MN).  Here’s the description of the bill on her website.  It would require police and prosecutors to obtain an order from a federal court to obtain information on adults claiming children listed as abducted as dependents on their tax returns.

The proposed legislation is called the “Access to Information about Missing Children Act,” and is co-sponsored by Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

I’ve written before about my concerns that the general breakdown of families has opened the door to greater intrusion by governments into what was once private life.  That’s true in countless instances from domestic violence to child abuse and neglect to child support all the way up to judges simply substituting their views of proper parenting for those of actual parents. 

We saw that last in the case of the Quebec dad who had grounded his 12 year old daughter for bad behavior.  She went to court and got an order quashing his discipline of her, the judges deciding that it was too harsh.  I suppose the next time she stays out too late with her friends, the dad can call the judges and ask what he should do.  Ditto when she won’t eat her oatmeal.

And undeniably, this bill is another such instance.  If passed, parental abduction will have resulted in the de-privatization of information by the IRS that was formerly confidential.

Is it a big deal?  I can’t decide.  On one hand, I’m all for finding abducted children and returning them to parents who love them.  As I’ve said before, parental abduction is a form of child abuse and should be stopped to the extent possible.  And certainly no parent has the “right” as a matter of privacy to deprive a child of another parent’s love, support, resources, etc.

Finally, the fact that a federal judge has to agree to the release of the information provides some protection for legitimate privacy interests.

Still, I’m not convinced the law won’t be misused and information provided that has no realistic connection to finding abducting parents.  And, once the word gets out, parents who abduct their children will simply cease to claim them as dependents rendering the law ineffective. 

For children who are currently abducted, the law may be a real godsend.  After all, there are plenty of people who have already kidnapped their kids and claimed them as dependents.  The law may help police find those parents and put right an abusive situation.  But at some point, abducting parents will catch on and stop claiming children on their returns. 

Then the law will become pretty toothless and we’ll have given up a small amount of privacy for… what?

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