Saturday, April 27, 2013

 

IRS can access emails without warrant


As if you weren't already stressed about your taxes.


IRS can read emails without warrant, according to its secret handbook

The Internal Revenue Service doesn't think it needs a warrant to look at your emails, according to a story first published on CNET and later reported on UPI and TheHill. Meaning that the people who handle your tax returns don't think that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution applies to them.

Information not given willingly

The IRS didn't come out and say this, of course. In fact, the agency didn't respond to a request for comment from CNET. Instead, its views on privacy come from a Freedom of Information Act filing from the American Civil Liberties Union conducted last year whose results were only recently published.
“The content of people's emails are some of the most private sensitive communications we have,” Nathan Wessler, a staff attorney at the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, told MSN. “It's incredible that, until now, the public has not been told whether federal investigative agencies think they need a warrant to read it.”

It's even in their handbook

When Wessler got the results of his FOIA request back, he was surprised to find the IRS's strange attitude toward privacy written right in its handbook. The agency's 2009 Search Warrant Handbook was explicit: “emails and other transmissions generally lose their reasonable expectation of privacy...once they have been sent from an individual's computer.” In other words, that email, Facebook chat, or Twitter private message are all fair game once you hit “send.”

The law says otherwise

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act was written all the way back in 1986, when most communication still existed on paper. Advocates from both sides of the aisle have lobbied Congress to update it, so that the IRS and other agencies can't make warrantless claims to other people's private information. But in some ways, the law already has been updated.
Three years ago, a federal appeals court ruled that emails were private, and couldn't be turned over without a judge's OK. But that still hasn't stopped the IRS, says Wessler. And the only way to know if they've looked at your emails, he says, is if you're prosecuted. At which point it might already be too late.

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