Tax Day memo: Lawmakers want IRS to come clean on email searches

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It’s Tax Day, and lawmakers from both parties are pressing the Internal Revenue Service to come clean about its policy on reading taxpayers’ email without a warrant.

In letters and statements issued after internal IRS documents were posted online last week, Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat, and Rep. Charles W. Boustany Jr., Louisiana Republican, called on the IRS to honor the Fourth Amendment.

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The IRS documents, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under the federal Freedom of Information Act, show the agency telling its law enforcement agents that they have the authority to access the email accounts, text messages and other electronic communications of private citizens without a warrant — using instead administrative subpoenas or other legal tools directed at the service providers.

In a statement, the IRS said it obeyed the law, but the agency did not comment in detail on its practices.

Mr. Boustany, who chairs the oversight subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee that has jurisdiction over the agency, called in a letter last week for the IRS to release all internal communications about its email search policy.

The letter also asked how many searches the agency has conducted since 2010 and how it uses social media to get information about taxpayers.

“It is my responsibility to ensure the Internal Revenue Service respects the Constitutional rights of all Americans while enforcing the nation’s laws,” Mr. Boustany said in his letter.

“Recent media reports have disturbingly claimed that it is the IRS’s view that it does not need a search warrant to review certain electronic communications by private citizens. Other recent reports state that IRS officials have used social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to mine additional information about taxpayers,” he added

Mr. Udall said in a statement Friday that the documents are “disconcerting and show a disregard for the Fourth Amendment and other privacy protections.”

“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,” Mr. 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.”

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About the Author
Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman is an award-winning reporter for The Washington Times, covering foreign affairs, defense and cybersecurity. He was a senior editor and correspondent for United Press International for nearly a decade, and has covered the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. His reporting on the Sept. 11 Commission and the tortuous process by which some of its recommendations finally became ...

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