ato logo
Search Suggestion:

Gathering electronic information

Guidance on providing your information electronically.

Last updated 30 April 2024

Overview of how we gather electronic information

When gathering electronic information, we will work with you to help ensure the information is given to us in an efficient and effective way. We prefer you to give us electronic information if possible. The benefits of providing copies of electronic information include:

  • you may save time and money by not having to copy or print the documents
  • electronic information is likely to be easier and less costly to copy and send
  • our activities are likely to be completed in a shorter timeframe – for example, we can analyse the information by using computer-assisted verification.

If your information is to be given to us electronically, we will usually arrange a meeting with you to discuss:

  • your accounting systems
  • the format and extent of the electronic records you keep
  • any documentation you have that may assist in our analysis – for example, your chart of accounts, reference tables or data dictionary.

Your tax adviser and information technology specialists can attend this meeting if you wish.

Under our notice and access powers, documents include anything from which sounds, images or writings can be reproduced, with or without the aid of anything else. This means we can seek information stored electronically, such as data on thumb drives and computer hard drives.

For the full definition of a document, see section 2B of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901.

We will consider your costs during the planning of our access visit and throughout our information-collection activities. However, you're not entitled to reimbursement for those costs incurred in giving us access or complying with a formal notice.

Cloud computing

Electronic information may be stored with a third party, including data stored on a cloud. Cloud computing entrusts a user's data, software and computation with a remote service provider via the internet from any location. An email account or file storage arrangement are examples of cloud computing.

Where the documents stored on a cloud are immediately accessible to you, we may use our notice or access powers to obtain them. We may also seek the information under a double tax agreement.

We may send you a formal notice under section 353-10 or section 353-25 of Schedule 1 to the TAA 1953.

A section 353-10 notice can be sent to any person who has control of the documents in question, whether or not they have custody. The notice to produce the relevant documents can be issued to you or to a third party who has custody of the documents.

If you fail to respond to a section 353-25 notice (that is, an offshore information notice), you may not be able to produce the offshore documents as evidence in a legal dispute with us relating to a tax-related liability of yours, unless we consent.

Using our formal powers

Notice powers

We may issue a notice requiring you to give information stored on a computer. We may require you to produce the information in either electronic form or as paper documents, or both.

Our notices may require the production of electronic information at any place that we reasonably nominate, including your premises.

Access powers

When using our access powers, we may ask to copy information from your computer system to an electronic storage device and will provide copies of these to you on request.

We will also provide you with a letter confirming our receipt of the downloaded information, if required.

We won't operate your computer system unless we are taking formal access and you have chosen not to access it for us.

If we need to operate your computer system, we will usually:

  • have our computer specialists access your computer
  • give you a reasonable opportunity to be present during the access
  • record the steps we take to search for and copy your data.

Copying electronic information

We may find that a large number of the documents we require are stored on your computer. Our officers must make an effort to determine the relevance of those documents before copying them.

Providing reasonable facilities and assistance

As the occupier of land, premises or a place being accessed, you must provide us with reasonable use of your facilities and assistance to extract relevant information stored on computer if we need it.

We may require facilities and assistance to:

  • make extracts or copies, whether hard copies or in electronic format
  • access a computer including login codes, keys, passwords and software manuals
  • copy an encrypted document for us – in this situation, you may need to remove the encryption, provide the password or operate the computer for us.

You may prefer to operate your computer, work together with us to enter passwords, and help us to locate the information we need on your computer system.

Example: Reasonable facilities and assistance

During an access visit our officer, Lucy, needs to gain access to a computer system. She needs to make a hard copy of some of the information.

Lucy must be provided with reasonable assistance and facilities by the occupier of the building.

If she needs an electronic copy, Lucy can copy that information held on computer to an electronic storage device, with the occupier’s assistance.

End of example

Verifying electronic information

We may use various methods to verify the accuracy and completeness of information provided electronically, including statistical sampling and forensic testing.

If you maintain electronic financial records, we may use computer-assisted verification to analyse the records. This method allows us to test for errors, quantify a tax risk and identify particular items of interest.

Computer-assisted verification has a range of benefits, including:

  • it may be cheaper and more efficient for you to give us information electronically
  • we may make fewer requests for paper copies of transactions and reports
  • we may need less time at your premises and so minimise disruption to your regular business activities.

We use specialised computer verification software to verify that the electronic information you provide is accurate and complete. We can then conduct a series of tests on your data to ensure you comply with the tax laws.

At the completion of the compliance activity, we will securely store the copied electronic information as part of our case file. Both the electronic and paper records provided to us are held in accordance with the secrecy provisions contained in the TAA and the Privacy Act.

Find out more about respecting your privacy under Your rights in the ATO charter – what you need to know.