That's right, the IRS can't look at your e-mail in order to crack down on tax cheats:Sen. Mark Udall (D) said in a statement Thursday he has "serious concerns about the IRS's recent comments that it can search and seize citizens' emails, Facebook posts, tweets and other digital communications without a warrant."
"This is an affront not only to our system of checks and balances, but also to our fundamental right to privacy," Udall said.
Udall's comments were in response to Thursday's release of documents from the IRS obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union. Those files show that the IRS asserts that its criminal tax investigation division can pour over the content of emails with a simple procedural subpoena. - Huffington Post, 4/11/13
But your e-mail isn't the only place the IRS can look at without a warrant:At issue is whether the IRS is violating the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution when it has not obtained a warrant before searching the email accounts of American citizens.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the case of United States v. Warshak that the government needed to obtain a warrant for information on specific accounts, including private messages.
Nathan Freed Wessler, attorney for the ACLU's Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, said on the group’s website that although the 247 pages it obtained do not clarify whether the IRS has obtained warrants to search email accounts since Warshak, “they suggest otherwise.”
"The documents the ACLU obtained make clear that, before Warshak, it was the policy of the IRS to read people’s email without getting a warrant," Wessler wrote. "Not only that, but the IRS believed that the Fourth Amendment" — which protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures —"did not apply to email at all."
The ACLU argues that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which gives the government the right to look at emails more than 180 days old without a search warrant, is badly outdated.
While the IRS has refused to say whether it obtains a search warrant every time it wants to poke into a private citizens’ email, the agency has justified not doing so in the past. - New York Daily News, 4/10/13
The Senate has been looking into this problem for a little while now:The IRS can also check Facebook and Twitter accounts for signs that people may be lying on their tax returns, though the agency says it conducts audits based on the information taxpayers put on their returns, not on postings on social media sites. And agents cannot deceive people or use fake profiles to obtain information. Still, it’s a reminder to those playing fast and loose with their tax filings not to boast on Twitter about it, experts say. - Wall Street Journal, 4/11/13
Today, Udall renewed the call for action:Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced legislation to strengthen email privacy protections on Tuesday, giving bipartisan flavor to the push to reform the outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986.
The combination of Leahy, a Democrat from the Green Mountain State, and Lee, a libertarian-leaning Republican from the West, mirrors a diverse coalition in the House of Representatives that introduced a similar bill earlier this month.
Just as ECPA action heats up, however, a House hearing provided a preview of law enforcement's objections.
Under the law currently in place, law enforcement officials need only a subpoena -- not a warrant -- to access email or other electronic communications stored online that are older than 180 days or have already been opened. That effectively means that if you use web-based cloud email, many or most of the emails in your inbox could be accessed by law enforcement on their say-so.
"No one could have imagined just how the Internet and mobile technologies would transform how we communicate and exchange information today," said Leahy, who originally authored ECPA in 1986, in a statement. "Three decades later, we must update this law to reflect new privacy concerns and new technological realities." - Huffington Post, 3/19/13
If you'd like to get more information on legislation or what you can do to raise action, feel free to contact either Udall or Leahy's offices for more details:"I have serious concerns about the IRS's recent comments that it can search and seize citizens' e-mails, Facebook posts, tweets and other digital communications without a warrant. This is an affront not only to our system of checks and balances, but also to our fundamental right to privacy," Udall said. "At the very least, this is evidence that Congress must make strengthening our privacy laws a top priority in order to prevent these types of actions from occurring. In particular, I welcome bipartisan efforts to overhaul the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. In the meantime, I urge the IRS to reconsider its overreach. Our Constitution at the very least demands some restraint until Congress has time to act." - markudall.senate.gov, 4/11/13
You can also get involved with the ACLU to help take action: