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IRS Authorized to Circumvent Warrants Regarding Personal Electronic Records

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According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the IRS can read your electronic communications. In 1986, the Electronic Communication Privacy Act gave government agencies such as the IRS the authority to examine any electronic communications older than 180 days. Even if you erase all your messages and statuses, rest assured that social networks, phone companies, and ISPs have not. Digital records, especially texts, are incredibly cheap to store. As such, there is a comprehensive open book of what many think of as “private communication” available to the government. The Electronic Communication Privacy Act specifies that a judge’s warrant is not necessary for a government agency to snoop through your records. An attorney’s subpoena — basically, a request to conduct any investigation — is sufficient. Note that prosecuting attorneys have incredibly wide powers to designate almost anything of interest as an “investigation.” As such, their desire to obtain records about your personal credit card purchases, emails, search history and social network posts is easily satisfied. Nevertheless, there is hope for resistance to virtually endless IRS intrusion.  Stored electronic communications are counted as a type of “private property” of the organization providing the messaging or transaction services. Companies such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others have resisted IRS requests, insisting on a harder-to-get warrant from a judge. Legislators have also noticed. Some pushed forward a bill that would curtail the authority of government agencies to obtain private electronic communication. Despite prospects for restrictions of IRS powers, keep in mind several facts. First, relevant legislation (if any) is very unlikely to be retroactive — to apply to electronic communications already on record prior to the legislation’s enactment. In addition, companies have no obligation to resist IRS inquiries. Of course, companies have every legal right to cooperate with government agency requests. They are prevented from doing so only by their own discretion, within limits of the law. You can take steps to ensure privacy. To diminish the possibility of potentially incriminating information haunting you years into the future, keep tax-related communications off the electronic record. Letters and personal meetings are a small price to pay for strong legal protections in matters of tax law.

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