The Internal Revenue Service is now among the more than dozen federal agencies that have sophisticated cellphone dragnet equipment known as Stingray, the Guardian reports.
The evidence of the potentially invasive equipment comes just days after the IRS escaped legal culpability
for secretly targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny.
According to the Guardian, the IRS bought the spy-like equipment in 2009 and 2012 from Harris Corporation.
The equipment works by pretending to be cellphone towers in order to strip metadata – and in some cases even content – from phones which connect to them.
"The info showing that they are using Stingrays is generally consistent with the kinds of investigative tactics that they are engaging in, and it shows the wide proliferation of this very invasive surveillance technology," Nate Wessler of the American Civil Liberties Union tells the Guardian.
According to the Guardian, one invoice, from 2012, shows the IRS spent $65,652 on upgrading a Stingray II to a HailStorm, a more powerful version of the same device, as well as $6,000 on training from Harris.
The equipment only requires a low-level court order to grant permission for its use.
The Guardian reports at least 12 federal agencies are already known to have these devices, including the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The IRS makes 13.
The devices are also used by some law enforcement units in at least 20 states, according to the Guardian.
"It's used by dozens, perhaps hundreds, of local law enforcement, used by the usual suspects at the federal level, and if the IRS is using it, it shows just how far these devices have spread," Wessler tells the Guardian.
Meanwhile, the scandal-scarred IRS is reportedly still holding up the applications of tea party groups for nonprofit status, including one that has been waiting nearly six years for approval.
Conservatives have railed
at the Justice Department's decision last week that it had cleared the IRS and its former executive Lois Lerner of any wrongdoing in the targeting scandal.
"It's no wonder why so many Americans have had it with Washington and the elite political class who can get away with something like this," Mark Meckler, president of Citizens for Self-Governance, tells the Washington Times.
According to the Washington Times, the Albuquerque Tea Party applied for nonprofit status in December 2009 and is still awaiting approval from the IRS.
And the American Center for Law and Justice tells the newspaper another one of its clients, Unite in Action, an Ohio group, has been waiting more than three years for approval.
"It's an outrage — a mockery of justice," Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, writes in a memo, the Times reports.
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