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For Americans, it is likely no surprise that the government is keeping a watchful eye on its citizenry. When we imagine how that is effectuated, we likely think back to stories of domestic spying that was perpetuated by individuals with access to government information, such as Julian Assange or Edward Snowden. But can it really be as bad as we’ve built it up to be? Is the government really covertly tracking our location with high-tech gadgets? The short answer: yes. And it’s not just the government agencies that are commonly associated with domestic sleuthing assertions. Newly surfaced information has shown that even the IRS is getting into the citizen-tracking business, and that could mean big trouble for taxpayers.
According to several news reports, the Internal Revenue Service has purchased several devices that have the capability of tracking the location of Americans without their knowledge or consent. The technology, called Stingray, is a briefcase-sized device that mimics a cell phone tower. In the past, the government relied on cell phone companies to provide information that was procured by their towers in order to determine the location of a person using a cell phone. With Stingray, the simulated cell phone tower tricks the target’s cell phone into sending it a signal and in turn, revealing its approximate location. This technology cuts out the phone companies and allows the government to conduct surveillance without the knowledge or cooperation of any other entity.
The news was first reported by The Guardian, as their Freedom of Information request uncovered the Stingray purchases. It is unknown exactly why the IRS is in need of devices that can determine the location of Americans, but one thing is for sure: the details of taxpayers’ lives are not a secret to the Service. The IRS has internally taken the position that very little of our lives are protected by the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unlawful search and seizure. In Service-created documentation now possessed by The Guardian, the litigating position of the IRS is that even e-mails are not protected by the Fourth Amendment once they are dispatched to another computer. It is easy to see that the development of effective surveillance technology is already being used to investigate those who are suspected of breaking tax laws and maybe even to watch those who aren’t.
Location-detecting cell phone technology isn’t where the IRS is drawing the line. Other news agencies have uncovered that the IRS has invested in technologies that track movement based on license plate recognition. Imagine a reality where the Service is easily able to verify claims of mileage deductions against a database of taxpayer movements over the past year. There are an infinite amount of potential uses for spying equipment and it the IRS has made a statement to the American people: we are watching you.
The scary part about the new capabilities of our nation’s tax collector is that innocent and honest taxpayers could easily get caught up in the IRS surveillance programs. Government spying programs that are domestic generally involve the mass-collection of data and are typically warrantless. This means that your cell phone location, vehicle movements, and e-mails could be accessed by the IRS when you haven’t done anything wrong. And that kind of unwanted attention could be used against a taxpayer at any point in time by any government agency as government entities typically have an agreement to share surveillance information.
But the group of Americans that needs to be especially worried is those who have either knowingly or unintentionally violated tax laws. Although the government is usually not presented with any resistance when obtaining a warrant once someone is suspected of committing a crime, the new surveillance programs could be used to identify taxpayers that may be engaged in illegal activity. For instance, the IRS may be using license plate recognition to determine who is visiting the offices of banks that are suspected of being involved in the maintenance of secret overseas accounts. That information could then be used to obtain warrants and launch a full Criminal Investigation Division inquiry into a taxpayer’s activity. Many of those investigations result in a Department of Justice prosecution and lead to a sentence in a federal prison.
In order to function in society, we cannot stay home, shutter our doors and windows, and stay off of the internet. The best course of action to take if you are fearful that the IRS will stumble upon your current or prior tax noncompliance is to immediately consult with an experienced tax attorney. Only a tax lawyer will be able to analyze your situation and give you not only tax, but legal advice. Once the IRS Criminal Investigations Division or Department of Justice gets involved, a run-of-the-mill tax preparer will not be able to provide the level of expertise that is needed to prevent an extensive stay in a federal prison.
The tax and accounting professionals at the Tax Law Offices of David W. Klasing have extensive experience assisting taxpayers with a variety of tax-related matters from civil examinations to criminal investigations and beyond. When the IRS and DOJ come knocking, they have sent their very best. Ensure that you do the same when choosing who you want to zealously advocate for your physical and financial freedom. Contact the Tax Law Offices of David W. Klasing today by calling (800) 681-1295 or online for a reduced rate consultation.