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Does the IRS need a search warrant to access your e-mail?

The filing deadline for federal income tax returns is only five days away. In New Jersey and across the country, taxpayers have either filed or are going down to the proverbial wire. Either way - unless a tax refund is already in hand - it's a time of considerable anxiety.

To be sure, it can be a fine line between completely justified tax avoidance and potential criminal tax evasion charges. But no matter how conservative or aggressive your tax strategy is, it's important to realize what types of powers the IRS may have to investigate you.

That is something the American Civil Liberties Union has been trying to find out. The ACLU has been pursuing the question through inquires under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Today the ACLU released documents obtained from the IRS under the FOIA. The ACLU reviewed manuals from the criminal tax division of the IRS, as well as agency memos. The gist of the ACLU's findings was that the IRS is not consistently following a recent federal court holding that said the agency should not order e-mail service providers to turn over messages without a search warrant.

The case in question, from 2010, was called United States v. Warshak. Federal investigators in that case had read a whopping 27,000 e-mails without getting a search warrant. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that evidence from those e-mails could not be admitted.

In the wake of this ruling, the IRS was supposed to back down on its warrantless pursuit of e-mail. But the documents released today by the ACLU suggest that this is not always the case.

Source: "IRS may be reading your e-mail without a warrant, documents suggest," NBC News, Suzanne Choney, 4-10-13

Please visit our page on white-collar crime charges.

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