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back to article ACLU documents shows free access to emails for IRS tax police

With the US Tax Day less than a week away, the ACLU has released a not-very-comforting Freedom of Information Act request return from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) showing just how easy it is for the tax agency to read people's online communications without a court-issued warrant. Last year, the ACLU asked the IRS for data …

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Facepalm

"internet users should have "No Privacy Expectation.""

...but if you log into a politician's email account with a default password, you'll go to jail for a million billion years.

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Er...

I believe that's a million billion trillion years.

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Anonymous Coward

Bribery by any other name.

When I was a kid, what Intuit did with there $11M dollars was called bribery. Today it's a campaign contribution!

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Mushroom

Re: Bribery by any other name.

And a good reason why the state should not be so large and controlling that it's worthwhile for companies and organisations (fake charities) to lobby the government.

With a small state, and more local democracy, it would be harder for lobbying to work as they would have to do it many times in many places rather than just once to some naive, weak willed , spending-someone-elses-money civil servant or some money grabbing, power mad, empire building politician.

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Re: Bribery by any other name. @The Axe

Nerr, local politicians would do it for half the price - except for some mad stick in the mud who'd be voted out at the next election after a huge publicity campaign. The reality is local government has smaller departments with--on average--less talented people who struggle to stand up to big business.

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Re: Bribery by any other name.

A small state and more local government does not solve this problem. Stronger laws against bribery and dodgy campaign contributions are what is needed. In actual fact though I suspect that stronger laws are not needed, what is actually needed is for the Police to actually police the laws as they stand (there are, I'm sure , already laws against bribery and dodgy campaign contributions are already on the books)...

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Re: Bribery by any other name.

When I was a kid, what Intuit did with there $11M dollars was called bribery.

Only by people as naive as you were. There was no prelapsarian age of political wonders when those with deep pockets did not put them to use influencing the political powers-that-were. Much of that spending is indeed an attempt to purchase political favors, often indirectly through some quid pro quo; some of it is merely marketing, for example paying an ostensible expert on the subject to write a paper favoring your position, and then spreading that around the corridors of power.

But to believe that there is any significant difference in the application of money to politics, or in the general opinion of the citizenry toward the practice (which basically boils down to "oh yes, very bad, please only do it when it supports a position I favor"), is a to make a grievous historical error.

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Anonymous Coward

Ouch!

....'IRS Office of Chief Counsel stated that "4th Amendment Does Not Protect Emails Stored on Server" and that internet users should have "No Privacy Expectation." Under the current rules, if an email has been opened or if it's more than 180 days old........'

Sobering...

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Trollface

Re: Ouch!

On the one hand, all business relevant emails have to be stored for at least 10 years, for tax purposes, on the other hand, all emails older than 180 days are "public domain" for the IRS... Maybe they should pay the server costs for storing all those emails.

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Re: Ouch!

I have to give this one to the IRS on the basis of the stupidity of the accepted email setup. Mail servers are NOT secure and are for all intents and purposes the same as sending a post card via carrier pigeon. I'm forever reminding users that email is not protected. And that bit so many lawyers put at the end of their transmissions about "unintended recipients" is also useless. Which only proves being an idiot does not necessarily prevent one from getting a law license.

The rest of it I think they need to revisit recent decisions as I believe the gps tracking was recently decided differently at SCOTUS.

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Re: Ouch!

I assume that by 'on the server' means 'on a public server' rather than my personal server on my machine. Yet another reason not to use cloud services, at least if it's on my machine they either have to break into the premises or come and ask me first. It's definitely not in the public domain if it's in my possession.

Don't send your tax information to people with gmail or yahoo accounts...

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WTF?

AS IF!

"Intuit fighting hard to retain its market by blocking moves to simplify the tax system"

Uh yeah, Small Bad Capitalists bring YOU to tears by influencing politicians. Crying_Indian.jpg

As if that was needed.

Tax shenanigans are used profitable to solicit votes from this or that voter block. It ain't gonna go anywhere soon.

Hopefully the fact that the confiscation outfit also can check your e-mail will finally kick people into PGP mode.

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Pirate

The on-line equivalent

...of the no-knock warrant.

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Anonymous Coward

Federal vs. state

At the federal level, the IRS is forbidden by law to do "tax software" - even unto making smart PDFs of the various tax forms (e.g. 1040A) that can simply "do the math" for you (you fill in line 1 and line 2, and line 3, which is "subtract line 2 from line 1" gets filled in for you by the Javascript in the PDF). That law was passed due to lobbying by Intuit, H&R Block, et. al. to protect their products. So when I do my Federal taxes, if I want electronic filing, I have to use somebody like Intuit, rather than just being able to go to https://www.irs.gov.

HOWEVER: one advantage of a federal/state system like the US has is that the laws about what the IRS can and cannot do don't apply to the state revenue services, so the Kansas Dept. of Revenue can quite happily offer a web site I log in to, fill in a few lines, and file my taxes, without any need for a third party like Intuit.

So when you are complaining about how the US seems to be a hodge-podge of laws - that can often be a GOOD thing!

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Savings.

"California taxpayers have this with the Ready Return system... If implemented nationally in the US, some estimates suggest it could save $2bn and 225 million hours a year."

Be assured that neither the saved time nor the saved money will be invested wisely.

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Re: neither the saved time nor the saved money will be invested wisely.

As Cali has already proved.

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Scott McNealy's wise words...

"You have no privacy anyway, get over it."

Words to the wise, echoed back in 1999.

Now where is my tin-foil hat?

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Happy

Simpler in Oz

One taxation/collection system - Federal - which then gets distributed back down to the States.

And every year the ATO (Australian Taxation Office) offers a nifty program called eTax for you to do your tax returns. It links to your TFN (that's SSN to you yanks) so that it can (if you request it to) auto-download your pay/tax holdings directly from whatever electronic paperwork your employers have lodged, syncs with last year's data to transfer any year-to-year claims you might have (I have depreciations going on), medicare (yes, socialised medicine does exist) records, etc, etc and then leads you by the hand through filling out the various sections. I admit I probably have a fairly simple tax situation compared to some, but once I have the paperwork in a pile I can generally go through both my and my wife's tax return in about half a day.

And before you ask; for the last 5 years we've had tax refunds from the government (some big, some small) so the software is not gamed against the punters. ^_^

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Re: Simpler in Oz

Forgot to add: The paperwork is submitted electornically (although you can print a paper copy if you want) and if you've supplied the ATO with a bank account you want it to access, you can pay your taxes/receive your refunds electronically as well.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Simpler in Oz

Here, Here. Last EOFY I was waiting for some paperwork and totally forgot about the tax return so the sunday night before the deadline of the tax return I heard an ad on the radio about 10:30pm at night and went sh*t.

Half an hour later (had some of the data already prefilled and needed to enter some data manually) hit the submit button and went back to bed knowing I had submitted the return about half an hour before the deadline.

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Flame

The constitution and the land of the free

The same presentation states that agents are free to place GPS tracking devices on their targets without a warrant and that cars parked in a driveway are not covered by the Amendment's "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures."

If many (not all) Americans took their heads out of their arses (not asses) for 5 minutes and stopped spouting the American propaganda they are brainwashed with from school age, "them in charge" would find it much harder to do things like this, and the patriot act etc.

...not saying it's much better over here in the UK - it seems people here know more about Jeremy Kyle guests and who's the latest old fart to go eating bugs in the Australian jungle just to get themselves an extra 15 minutes of fame... Walk into Tescos, and look at the magazine racks... 95% 'celebrity' tat.

Oh, and I know the author is in 'cisco, but the web site is www.the.register.co,uk so "an herb" should be "a herb".

Sorry, it's 5.30am, I can't sleep and I'm in a mood!

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Singaporeans canlog in and file or update in...

FIVE MINUTES.

The US IRS needs to get with the times. Intuit and hr block are outdated as the newspapers. The IRS rules can be set up such that ADP or other payroll companies can matche by line the income types and distributions at the employee and single/married level. Every payroll period, those so concerned could review their adjustments and cashflows so that by year's end, all filings could be complete, awaiting only pre-late February amendments or adjustments. There is no valid reason that this stuff could not be near-real-time.

If a taxpayer vanishes or neglects filing for 2 or 4 years, but owes nothing, and probably has money waiting, the IRS could and should be able to process it without belching about skipped years. As long as the taxpayer appears to be alive and collecting payroll and paying pay period taxes, the taxe return/filing season could be, as a cultural institution, could and should be drawn, quartered, and removed from the list of annual chores.

Oh, and yes, it should be integrated with states. Voluntary payers could get discounts or forgiveness if owing less than $200. Stallwarts could make up for the shortfall for insistence on privilege to game the system.

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Silver badge

Re: Singaporeans canlog in and file or update in...

Singapore is a city. Its population is 1.6% of the US's population. It's been independent since 1965; the US has been independent since 1776. The US is a rather messy democracy with a long history.

Singapore is a democracy in name only, has only ever been governed by one party, and has thoroughly dispensed with such obnoxious obstacles to governmental efficiency as freedom of speech, jury trials, and the presumption of innocence.

Basically, you're praising a freshly-created, politically-homogenous, iron-fisted autocracy with a lid on political dissent and the population of a fairly small US city, for having rapid tax preparation. Honestly, it bloody well *better* have rapid tax preparation. Anything less given the advantages it starts out with would be horribly embarrassing.

It's easy to be efficient when you don't have to worry about political or public opposition and your population is so small you could run a birth-to-death database on an iPad!

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Happy

Hmmm...

'IRS Office of Chief Counsel stated that "4th Amendment Does Not Protect Emails Stored on Server"

Really? Well... What's good for the goose is good for the gander...

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Same in Slovenia...

We either file online into a nice handy Tax Agency form and do it that way or even better. We just get what the agency things we owe it and if we agree do nothing else file a different return.

I'm glad this got instated like a year or so before I started working so I don't need to do anything really.

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Anonymous Coward

What's a tax return....

... not filled one in for years. PAYE works well for me.

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The thing is, though

"A 2010 presentation from the IRS Office of Chief Counsel stated that "4th Amendment Does Not Protect Emails Stored on Server" and that internet users should have "No Privacy Expectation."

Just isn't true. It's just a wish from some bloke. The 4th amendment is pretty clear and it does cover email on a server. It covers one's "papers and effects". Only a retard, or a lawyer, could have trouble applying that to email; I'm not sure which the IRS Counsel counts as.

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Easy to fix...

Select all, mark as read, six month backup policy.

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FAIL

Re: Easy to fix...

... mark as unread...

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If Thomson and the ACLU were really interested in fixing these problems

instead of just throwing temper tantrums and saying "See look what a moral person I am!" they stop these shenanigans and start supporting Sarah and the rest of the Tea Party.

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