By their nature, tax returns contain highly sensitive information. Consequently, the Internal Revenue Code makes return information, which is broadly defined, confidential. I.R.C. § 6103(a). This confidentiality provision comes with real teeth:
- If an employee of the federal government inspects or discloses a return or return information, either “knowingly, or by reason of negligence,” in violation of section 6103, the taxpayer may sue the United States for damages. I.R.C. § 7431(a). If the taxpayer wins, she can recover statutory damages of $1,000 per violation, actual damages if greater, and, if the violation is either willful or the result of gross negligence, punitive damages.