Thursday, April 08, 2010

Big Brother is Watching: IRS Uses Social Media Sites Like Facebook to Investigate Taxpayers

As we spend more and more time on our social networks like Facebook, don’t forget we don’t always know who is watching. When you post status updates, pictures, or information it could be used against you.

As social networking and Google technology expand, the IRS knows it can use social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and even Google Street View to investigate taxpayers, and they do.

While the Department of Justice acknowledges going undercover online, the IRS prohibits employees from misrepresenting their identities to obtain information on social media sites.
However, IRS agents are allowed to use information they find about an individual taxpayer or business if it is made publicly available on a social networking site.

For example, the IRS explained that Google Street View can be helpful to view properties.

Is this an invasion of privacy?
"It's presumably just a really cheap way to see what someone's house looks like," said Shane Witnov, a student at the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic, who worked with EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) to obtain this information. "If someone says their house is worth $100,000 and the IRS looks at it on Google Street View and it's a mansion, they could probably question that claim."The Electronic Frontier Foundation questions the extent to which federal agencies should be able to use social media without crossing the line of legality and privacy invasion.

"The documents basically confirmed what we knew, that social networks are being used to collect information for investigations," said Witnov. "But we're still trying to find out the scope of their use and what sort of oversight is in place to limit it, since it could be a potential invasion of privacy."
Witnov says that in some cases, authorities may be overstepping their boundaries, especially when creating false profiles and online identities to collect information.

"Law enforcement is allowed to lie, but some things seem to be crossing the line," he said. "We want more specific guidelines to make sure they're not abusing their power."

Read the full article here.

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