As last-minute filers scramble to submit their returns, they may have some unwanted company, The Journal News/lohud.com reports. Tax auditors from the Internal Revenue Service may be looking over their shoulder. After reviewing 247 pages of IRS documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the American Civil Liberties Union concluded that the IRS may be using a loose interpretation of the U.S. Constitution to access private emails.
The ACLU review found that the IRS wasn’t detailing probable cause for criminal activity before looking at emails, as would be required for phone records or other surveillance.
“Average taxpayers should care about this because they could end up on the wrong side of an IRS audit,” said Daniel Berger, director of the Lower Hudson Valley chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Taxpayers should care about this because it sets a legal standard for all government agencies. And it puts us on a slippery slope, if the government isn’t observing Fourth Amendment protections for communications that people feel are private.”
A 2009 handbook for IRS criminal investigators said that emails did not receive Constitutional protections because “internet users do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in such communications.”
The IRS said in a statement Friday that it is not running afoul of the law and is not targeting taxpayers through emails.
“Respecting taxpayer rights and taxpayer privacy are cornerstone principles for the IRS. Our job is to administer the nation’s tax laws, and we do so in a way that follows the law and treats taxpayers with respect. Contrary to some suggestions, the IRS does not use emails to target taxpayers,” the statement said.