Captain Kirk and the IRS: The IRS can read your email

A-List on Americanism: Is the IRS allowed to read your email without your consent, and what does 'Star Trek' have to do with any of this? Photo: AP

WASHINGTON,  April 12, 2013 — The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has released statements indicating that it can read taxpayer emails without a search warrant or court order, if they are more than six months old, by simply having an IRS agent authorize an administrative subpoena.

What’s more, the New York Daily News reports that The American Civil Liberties Union has filed papers asking if the IRS is using this loophole to also scan social media, which can easily be found publicly on the web. In fact, emails that are less than 180 days old can be viewed without a search warrant as well, if they have been opened and are still in your inbox, according to this regulation.

The loophole comes from The Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a federal regulation instituted in 1986, before email was commonly used for personal communication as it is today. However, on June 18, 2007 the Sixth Circuit US Court of Appeals found portions of the Act to be unconstitutional. It specifically struck down those portions that allow government investigators to access personal emails without a search warrant because it violates our reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. So under the court’s decision, if the government wants to use a court order or subpoena with anything less than probable cause, they must first notify the individual to obtain their consent for those email records.

What’s even more concerning is that all of this is happening and our leaders aren’t even aware of it. During an April 11 White House press briefing, reporters asked President Obama’s Press Secretary, Jay Carney, about the IRS snooping on taxpayer text messages and emails. Carney remarked, “I’m not aware of the story, uh, or the documents concerned …”  He then deflected the question by passing the buck back to the IRS for answers to these questions. 

Rest assured that while the White House was not aware of what’s going on at the IRS regarding “email-gate,” Captain James T. Kirk, himself, was well aware of another IRS abuse we’ll call “video-gate.” Actor William Shatner, the iconic captain of the Starship Enterprise tweeted on March 23 regarding a separate IRS issue: “So I watched that IRS video. I am appalled at the utter waste of US tax dollars.” Shatner was referring to a six-minute training video produced by the IRS at a cost of $60,000.00 where IRS workers claimed: “to boldly go where no government employee has gone before.”   

Interestingly, Shatner’s tweet to his 1.5 million followers gained an immediate response from the IRS, apologizing in a statement: “The IRS recognizes and takes seriously our obligation to be good stewards of government and taxpayer dollars,” the agency said in a statement. “There is no mistaking that this video did not reflect the best stewardship of resources.” So the IRS responds to tweets from A-listers but seems to throw caution to the wind when it comes to our constitutional rights to privacy.

So how far is too far, and should the government violate our privacy without a search warrant issued due to probable cause in a criminal investigation?  How does the idea of the IRS’ interpretation of this legal loophole affect your email inbox?

 

About the Author: Rich Valdes is a former official in New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Administration and marketing professional who has managed projects for government agencies, educational institutions, and entertainment clients; producing high-profile special events for various charities and celebrities. As a frequent contributor to TV, radio, and print media outlets. Rich’s commentary on social issues and popular culture have been featured on Hot 97 FM, CNN Headline News, Telemundo, Univision, HHR and The Washington Times. When not  debating, politics, education, and culture, Rich is a single dad, school board member, and Young Benefactor at VH1 Save The Music Foundation.  Rich attended New York University and is pusuing a Master’s degree at Lincoln University of Pennsylvania. Rich is raising his two young daughters and caring for his elderly father in the New York City suburb of Bergen County, New Jersey.


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Rich Valdes

Rich Valdes is a former official in New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's Administration, an award-winning marketing director, and manager who has led staff and projects for various colleges, state policy initiatives, celebrity entertainers, faith based organizations, and non-profit charities. Rich has run small businesses, created strategic messaging campaigns to increase college student enrollment revenue, and produced high-profile public relations events to raise awareness for various brands.

As a frequent  TV, radio, and print media contributor, Rich's commentary on social issues and popular culture have been featured on Hot 97 FM, CNN Headline News, Telemundo, Univision, HHR and Fox/My9. When not  debating, politics, education, and culture, Rich is a single dad, school board member, and Young Benefactor at VH1 Save The Music Foundation.  Rich attended New York University and is pursuing a Master’s degree at Lincoln University while raising his two young daughters and caring for his elderly father in the New York City suburb of Bergen County, New Jersey. 

Follow Rich Valdes on Twitter: @richvaldes

 

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