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Were Taxpayer Rights Left at the Digital Age’s Door?

Douglas Kellogg
April 18, 2013

Taxpayers may have a host of computer programs to help deal with our daunting Tax Code, but recent stories suggest the IRS is not about to lose a tech arms race, and may be taking advantage of the Internet age to usurp our rights to privacy.

The most shocking news on this front came out of an ACLU FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request which revealed internal IRS documents claiming the agency had the right to intercept emails and other electronic communications (like social media postings) without a warrant.

If this was a controversial precedent with regards to national security, you can imagine it would be controversial when done just to hound taxpayers.

A C|net piece by Declan McCullagh contains a good rundown of the details, including that the IRS maintained this anti-email privacy position, “even after a federal appeals court ruled in the 2010 case U.S. v. Warshak that Americans have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their e-mail. A few e-mail providers, including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook, but not all, have taken the position that Warshak mandates warrants for e-mail.”

Well, the IRS’ insistence they can peak at our communications is certainly disturbing, but what exactly are they doing? According to a story by U.S. News & World Report, the IRS might have some toys that make Turbo Tax look like a squirt gun going up against a Howitzer.

According to the article, “[The IRS is] also acquiring a huge volume of personal information on taxpayers' digital activities, from eBay auctions to Facebook posts and, for the first time ever, credit card and e-payment transaction records.”

Clearly, the agency was not stating it had the right to personal communications just for kicks, it’s taking serious advantage to gather a host of information on citizens - this information has already been used by IRS agents in disputes with taxpayers.  

When the government can’t get out of its own way to free up the economy, the desperate hunt for revenue leads the IRS to shear the flock as closely as possible, and now the rights of every American are at risk of being clipped. Even the most paranoid individual might not have imagined that in 2013 the government would be running full financial behavior profiles on you, based on privileged information and supposedly private communications.


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