Rarely do we agree with the ACLU on issues but, when the IRS thinks they can read your personal emails without a Warrant, we think this is an issue that needs to be exposed.
The IRS Handbook says: “…the Fourth Amendment does not protect communications held in electronic storage, such as email messages stored on a server, because internet users do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in such communications.”
The IRS runs a number of tax audits each year, and as such, has to obtain information on private citizens. If the information is in a physical format, the agency must obtain a warrant to access it. If it’s stored online via email or other electronic information, there is no such protection.
In a Freedom of Information Act request, the ACLU obtained a number of IRS documents that explain the agency’s rules in regards to obtaining digital information. Much like other law enforcement agencies, the IRS operates under the ECPA, a decades-old law that allows government agencies to obtain emails without a warrant if said email has been opened or is more than 180 days old.
So far, all of this is old news. What’s the IRS doing that’s so different from any other agency? In the official IRS search warrant handbook from 2009, the agency’s guideline explicitly states that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply to online communications. Here’s the relevant portion of the handbook: