The IRS, moving aggressively to collect more taxes from small businesses, is telling companies being audited to turn over exact copies of the electronic records kept in their business-software programs, according to a letter from an agency official to the American Institute of CPAs.
The accounting group fears this will force small businesses to turn over customer lists, personnel data, confidential client information and other unrelated information often contained in the off-the-shelf software programs many businesses use to manage all aspects of their finances.

Small-business groups are beginning to push back, saying the agency shouldn't treat small firms like bigger businesses, which usually have elaborate accounting systems and are able to give the IRS only the data the agency seeks. Small businesses, defined by the IRS as those with assets of less than $10 million, often use one off-the-shelf software program such as QuickBooks or Peachtree. A spokesman for Intuit said the Mountain View, Calif., company "was aware that the IRS has purchased copies of small-business accounting software to use in its tax audits." The IRS declined to comment.

"Many accountants are worried this could lead to fishing expeditions" to find problems beyond the scope of the requested information, said Danny Snow, a certified public accountant in Memphis who is active in the American Institute of CPAs, or AICPA. "It's not like what the IRS asks of large companies."