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Tightening tax security

The Revenue Commissioners successfully collected almost €32bn on behalf of the State last year, a good performance considering our straitened economic circumstances.

Unlike other state bodies, the organisation is still held in reasonable esteem by people and businesses, if never exactly liked. Up to now, trust between the public and the organisation has been extraordinarily high.

However, for the whole taxation system to function properly, the protection of taxpayer records is paramount.

When an individual or a firm pays tax to the State, they're effectively entering into an informal contract. They agree to pay what they owe, while the Revenue agrees to treat its affairs confidentially.

On this latter score, Thursday's break-in at a Revenue Commissioners' office on the Navan Road raises serious concerns.

Some 10 laptops were stolen in the raid and gardai and Revenue officials were still unsure last night about the motive, although there were indications the raid may have been undertaken by a well organised criminal gang, such was the professionalism of the operation.

While clearly the Revenue took steps to protect the sensitive records at the office (which deals with fraud and tax evasion) by using padlocks and encryption, it is evident security was not sufficiently watertight and improvements will be needed.

It can only be hoped that the gang that took the laptops will struggle to penetrate the Revenue's IT encryption system installed on each one, but it is not good enough that records belonging to taxpayers -- compliant or otherwise -- should be put at risk of theft by criminal gangs in this way. A full review of systems, procedures and security at sensitive Revenue offices is now urgently needed.