Everyone knows the IRS is our nation’s tax collector, but it is also a law enforcement organization tasked with investigating criminal violations of the tax laws. New documents released to the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the IRS Criminal Tax Division has long taken the position that the IRS can read your emails without a warrant—a practice that one appeals court has said violates the Fourth Amendment (and we think most Americans would agree).
IRS documents released Wednesday suggest that the tax collection agency believes it can read American citizens' emails without a warrant.
The files were released to the American Civil Liberties Union under a Freedom of Information Act request. The organization is working to determine just how broadly federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI or the IRS' Criminal Tax Division interpret their authority to snoop through inboxes.
The IRS apparently interprets that authority very broadly, the documents show: as long as you've stored your email in a cloud service like Google Mail, and as long as those emails haven't been deleted after a few months, the agency thinks it doesn't need a warrant to read them.
The idea of IRS agents poking through your email account might sound at the very least creepy, and maybe unconstitutional. But the IRS does have a legal leg to stand on: the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 allows government agencies to in many cases obtain emails older than 180 days without a warrant.