Canada agency snooping on citizens

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Workers at the Canada Revenue Agency have been electronically snooping on the financial records of dozens of Canadians without their permission, according to documents released by the government body.

The reports, obtained by the Canadian press under the Access to Information Act, show that workers have been using agency computers to provide privileged access and tax favours to friends and family.

According to reports in the Toronto Star, one employee accessed the tax information of three colleagues, along with the financial records of a colleague's daughter, spouse and mother. "She accessed her own tax information and the tax information [of] 13 relatives... She provided preferential treatment to colleagues, relatives and acquaintances," said one report.

An investigation team found 29 cases of unauthorised access in 2008-2009, along with a dozen instances in which tax information was given to third parties without authorisation.

One worker downloaded 37,500 emails and 776 documents, according to the reports. Another worker inspected the tax information of his wife 69 times without permission, and another employee accessed the tax records of creditors of a business that she secretly operated outside the regular job. In some cases, tax information was used for fraudulent purposes. One worker issued himself a false charitable donation receipt for $3,000, said internal files.

The Canada Revenue Agency says that it screens personnel before employing them as a means of protecting taxpayer information. It also regularly briefs employees on taxpayer security. "Depending on the information, employees may have to take special steps in handling it," the agency says. "CRA employees with different levels of responsibility, such as taxpayer services personnel, auditors, investigators, all those handling income tax files, have different levels of access depending on the requirements of their work."

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