The Holy Grail of APIs
20 Dec 2013
I look at a lot of APIs, I work hard to brainstorm ideas for potential new APIs, and I can't think of a more important API to not just the API economy, but to the overall economy, than an IRS API that would give citizens access to their income and tax history.
We know the APIs exists, since the same resources are made available via the IRS Modernized e-File system to tax professionals. I'm not talking about an API that gives access to every detail of my tax history, but the data I've entered into common forms like W2, 1099, and 1042.
This IRS API would provide simple REST API access to these values, along with an oAuth framework allowing any approved application developer to access all or portions of our most relevant income and tax data. With oAuth being the access layer to all of this, it would give us, the citizen control over who has access to our history, and how applications can use it.
An IRS API would be used to streamline numerous processes like home loans, student financial aid and other transactions actions we take in our everyday lives. These transactions occur over and over each year, and require manual entry, manual validation and other often cumbersome interactions.
The introduction of an IRS API with oAuth, would also do amazing things for basic digital literacy around oAuth, and who is accessing to our vital information. This type of literacy around APIs, oAuth, and data access, is critical to not just a healthy API economy, but is quickly blending with the regular economy.
I'm not naive regarding the politics of such a move, which would uncover huge amounts of corruption, false statements, potentially disrupt existing jobs that are dedicated to these bureaucratic functions, and introduce a new wave of security concerns. However I think the benefits will outweigh the negatives and this represents the next generation of financial literacy.
It is up to the IRS to take the steps necessary to make such an API possible. The data is there, and we know existing web services are in place that facilitate these types of interactions. The IRS just needs to realize the importance role that web APIs and oAuth play in the current digital landscape, prioritize a simple web API design, oAuth deployment and supporting developer area.