IRS: We Do Get Warrants Before Reading Your Email

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The IRS denies spying on taxpayer emails without a warrant, after a copy of its procedures handbook that suggested the opposite was published online.

We wrote last week about an IRS handbook that says taxpayers have no expectation of privacy in their online communications.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which acquired and published the handbook, suggested that meant the IRS was ignoring the Fourth Amendment and an appeals court ruling in order to snoop on taxpayer emails without a warrant.

Now, IRS Commissioner Steven Miller has told Congress the agency doesn’t do that, The Hill says. Miller said the IRS only seeks emails in criminal investigations, not civil ones — and that it only does it after getting a search warrant.

He added that the practice is followed across the country, not just in the four states (Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee) where a court ruled it was required.

Miller was speaking specifically about email, but the handbook discusses electronic communications more broadly. “The official said he is unsure whether the agency’s warrant requirement policy applies to other private online content, including social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter,” The Hill says. The IRS will clarify its procedures, Miller added.

Some in Congress are planning legislation to update the 1986 law the IRS has used to justify its ability to sift through our communications. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act, as it was written, allows the government to demand that tech companies turn over communications that have been read or that are more than six months old, without court approval.

Stacy Johnson

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