Internal Revenue Service files obtained by the ACLU show that the government agency tasked with collecting taxes may also be reading your email without getting a judge’s permission.
The documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union
under the Freedom of Information Act show that the IRS Criminal Tax Division has long held the position that email should not be protected from unusual searches and seizure under the Fourth Amendment.
“So does the IRS always get a warrant?” an ACLU blog post asks. “Unfortunately, while the documents we have obtained do not answer this question point blank, they suggest otherwise.”
Guidelines produced by the IRS indicate that citizens had no right to expect privacy in email communications prior to a 2010 court ruling by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Even after the ruling in United States v. Warshak that stated the government must obtain a probable cause warrant before it could make email providers turn over their records, the agency didn’t change its guidelines.
When it made edits to the Internal Revenue Manual in March 2011 it didn’t change the policy: “Investigators can obtain everything in an account except for unopened e-mail or voice mail stored with a provider for 180 days or less using a [relevant-and-material-standard] court order.”
The ACLU says that while the 180-day rule is standard procedure, the IRS still seems to cling to the idea that opened emails left on a server more than 180 days can be read without obtaining a warrant.
It is also unclear whether the IRS considers the Warshak ruling applicable to all jurisdictions or just to the Sixth Circuit.
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