Thursday, April 11, 2013

IRS claims they can read your e-mail and other electronic communications without a warrant

photo: Martin Haesemeyr / Flickr
Madison Ruppert
Activist Post

According to documents recently obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) believes they have the authority to read the private e-mail messages, Facebook chats and other online communications of Americans without obtaining a warrant.

This probably isn’t surprising given the blatant nature of the government’s illegal spying at this point and the complete flouting of judicial scrutiny when it comes to government surveillance.

According to IRS lawyers, the American people have “generally no privacy” in online communications which means no Fourth Amendment standards apply and no search warrant is needed to read our private communications.

The 2009 IRS Search Warrant Handbook obtained by the ACLU through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request claims that “mails and other transmissions generally lose their reasonable expectation of privacy and thus their Fourth Amendment protection once they have been sent from an individual’s computer.”

Considering the fact that this so-called handbook was prepared by none other than the Office of Chief Counsel for the Criminal Tax Division, this is quite troubling.

While the ACLU’s intent was to obtain records simply stating if the IRS gets a warrant before reading email, text messages and other private electronic communications, the documents obtained don’t give a point blank answer.

While the IRS might not come right out and say it for obvious reasons, the ACLU notes that the 247 pages of records they obtained indeed suggest that the IRS reads private communications without getting a warrant first.

Saying “suggest” is a quite conservative choice of words indeed given some of the material. Part of the 2009 handbook actually claims that “the Fourth Amendment does not protect communications held in electronic storage, such as email messages stored on a server, because Internet users do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in such communications.”

A 2010 presentation by the IRS Office of Chief Counsel claims that “4th Amendment Does Not Protect Emails Stored on Server” and that there is “No Privacy Expectation” when it comes to those emails.

However, United States v. Warshak, a 2010 case in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, determined that the government must indeed obtain a probable cause warrant before forcing an email provider to release messages.

“However, the IRS hasn’t told the public whether it is following Warshak everywhere in the country, or only within the Sixth Circuit,” according to Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney for the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project.

That said, it could not be clearer that the IRS policy before Warshak was to read electronic communications without ever obtaining a warrant.

The IRS apparently only follows the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) a 1980s-era law that is far behind the times as CNET points out in writing that it was “adopted in the era of telephone modems, BBSs, and UUCP links, long before gigabytes of e-mail stored in the cloud was ever envisioned.”

In a March 2011 revision of the Internal Revenue Manual, it is stated that under the ECPA, “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” instead of an actual warrant.

As Wessler points out, “Again, no suggestion that the Fourth Amendment might require more,” meaning that their policy apparently did not change one bit after Warshak. This apparently has not changed one bit in the current tax season’s Internal Revenue Manual.

An IRS Chief Counsel Advice memorandum from October 2011 similarly “misses another chance to declare that agents should obtain a warrant for emails because the Fourth Amendment requires it. Instead, the memo’s advice (which may not be used as precedent and is not binding in other IRS criminal investigations) is limited to situations in the Ninth Circuit where an ISP intends to challenge warrantless requests for emails,” according to Wessler.

The ACLU is also now waiting on documents from the FBI and other Department of Justice Agencies on similar matters.

“Let’s hope you never end up on the wrong end of an IRS criminal tax investigation,” Wessler writes. “But if you do, you should be able to trust that the IRS will obey the Fourth Amendment when it seeks the contents of your private emails. Until now, that hasn’t been the case.”

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This article first appeared at End the Lie.

Madison Ruppert is the Editor and Owner-Operator of the alternative news and analysis database End The Lie and has no affiliation with any NGO, political party, economic school, or other organization/cause. He is available for podcast and radio interviews. Madison also now has his own radio show on UCYTV Monday nights 7 PM - 9 PM PT/10 PM - 12 AM ET. Show page link here: http://UCY.TV/EndtheLie. If you have questions, comments, or corrections feel free to contact him at


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Anonymous said...

Yes because the 4th Amendment is just so danged hard to understand:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Persons, houses, papers, and effects actually means you need a freaking warrant always! My person includes me anywhere I am! My houses any where or form that they exist! My papers and effects are basically everything else!

You need a warrant always, no exceptions! If you think otherwise, you are a traitor to the United States, and its ideals! This covers most government employees, since non of them seem to get it!

Anonymous said...

Anyone who values privacy should encrypt their email using GnuPG or PGP. Tax the electronic resources of the spy network. Pun intended.

Anonymous said...

Using the logic the IRS is using, nobody should expect "generally no privacy" for anything sent through the U.S. Postal Disservice, since once it leaves their possession, it is out in the public domain. Of course, the big difference is that the USPS is a government agency (of sorts), while the ISPs aren't, so the argument could be made on that difference.

Only problem with that is, the same requirements for intercepting U.S. mail has also been applied to shipments via UPS or FedEx.

As anonymous 9:10pm stated, my papers are my papers no matter where they reside--on my desk at home, in my safe deposit box, or out on the internet or the cloud. Therefore, "...probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized..." applies.

When we restore our government, we're gonna need a LOT of trees!

Anonymous said...

Laws are only for slaves, obviously.

Anonymous said...

Agreed with Anonymous at 10PM. The very existence of the encryption suggests that indeed internet users _don't_ have reasonable expectation of privacy in their emails. If I was defending IRS, this would be my #1 argument. Encryption was invented many years ago and is available in every email client, without PGP or anything special to install. If you are going to discuss your tax cheating in email and you expect privacy, get familiar with the tab "Privacy" in your email client, and with the button "encrypt" in the toolbar, not too far from "send".

On the other hand, someone who tweets to the whole world about their tax cheating, does beg to be caught, and there's nothing wrong in using that information.

Anonymous said...

The 'big government' gives the orders to the IRS.

Government gets what government wants.

For all the brain dead idiots who say government can't get anything right, it is full of lazy union idiots who are stupid and inefficient.........stop and think.

The government wants to get your money, so it does it with ruthless efficiency. It does NOT want to help you get food, help you get educated, help protect you from crime or any of that.

This IRS article is the most perfect illustration of how government size is irrelevant. What matters is government intent.
The USA government are fascists who are smart and patient, this game has been going for over 100 years. They want your money, they get it. They want your freedom, they get that too. They want to give you LESS services, so they con you into thinking they can't do it, so you demand less services, and they oblige.

Next time some Ron Paul zealot starts chirping about useless government workers, educate him.

Anonymous said...

We live in a Government for the Government and by the Government. It can do anything it damn well pleases, especially big agencies like the IRS.

EA said...

This is the same thing as saying you can hang IRS agents for Treason without a Trail. :) What powers the Government delegates to itself, the People must have as well, since all power and authority Government has is delegated to them by the People.

Get rope.

Anonymous said...

Holy crap. Thanks for the educational article!

wishbone said...

so, government thieves spying on us, what else is new,???? if you don't want them knowing what your doing with YOUR money, don't put it in e-mails.! but think about this, if they (the tax crooks, the CIA, the FBI, NSA, MI5, MI6,) are reading your e-mails, then put in a P,S, just for them, it gives you the opportunity to tell them what you think of them, EXAMPLE; P,S, to any CIA (or agency of your choice) reading this message, you are a tosser, with a tiny dick. get the idea,? if everyone does that can you imagine how that CIA arsehole will feel after a day of reading what people think of him, after a month he will be looking for a new job shelf filling in a supermarket.

Anonymous said...

Of course the LLC ACLU,as a corporate fiction has "legal" immunity from being sued for tort claim by lawful[read living, volitional} plaintiff. ACLU Lawyer liars are subject to the jurisdictional, "law speaking" findings of the parent of all corporate fictions itself a mere fiction of "law". But if one chooses to act for oneself as a living breathing sovereign self creating Man, he may only receive monetary compensation for the damage done by
agents spying on his communications. At least according to internal "legal procedure" claimed to be "the law" by BAR operators. Since that money comes from black bag counterfeit fiend funds. there seems to be noway through the patented legal system to get at the actors themselves and thus discourage the policy of spying on targets. All the debt obligations incurred if you win your suit are to the slave classes which hold the debt bag. Oh Well.

DesertSultans said...

Why can't we then read their emails? What do they have to hide if they are not doing anything wrong? Right?

Anonymous said...

Come on, no one working for the IRS knows how to read.

Anonymous said...

wtf does the irs think it is? obviously they work for the fed, the fed works for the international bankers_ fuck them and there police state utopia, there time is soon to be up.

Anonymous said...

I give the ACLU points for shining the light of truth on the criminals in the government. But it won't surprise me if every one of their offices gets audited by the IRS in the coming year. That's how it works, you know. Challenge their illegal acts and you yourself become a primary target. This happened some years ago to a CBS affiliated TV station some years ago in Los Angeles, right after they aired a half-hour news magazine about tax protesters. The very next day, everyone working at that station was given a Notice of Audit. Wonder if they challenged any of it on the basis of infringing on their Freedom of the Press...

Anonymous said...

How is it the IRS can read private emails when the IRS is a private entity and isn't part of the government? Has there ever been an Act of Congress or Executive order giving the IRS legal authority to operate in any of the 50 states? People should demand defunding and abolishment of the IRS.

Anonymous said...

oh so thats how it works, so if ihappen to get into some irs computers, download 40 tetraflops of info its cool because they dont have a resonable right to privacy i just wont open the ones that arent opend,,,,,

so if our government and the fake fed/irs can read everything and no one has a reson to think everything is private, why does everyone get so bummed when anonymous uploads everyones secrets ^^

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