Friends and family may not be the only ones browsing your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. A recent publication notes that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is also keeping tabs on these accounts.
Why would the IRS check Facebook? These agents are not online to take one of Facebook’s infamous quizzes. Instead, IRS agents are looking for signs that could support allegations of tax fraud.
A professor of business law out of Washington State University recently published a paper that delves into this matter. She found that the IRS is collecting information from various forms of social media, including Facebook, to help build cases against taxpayers. Agents conducting an audit can use these sources to gather incriminating information. For example, the IRS was able to build a case against a woman accused of tax fraud with information posted on Facebook.
Is this legal? Court cases have used privacy statutes to support the right to expect privacy with emails. As such, the government generally needs a warrant to search these electronic forms of communication. However, the internet has changed. These statutes do not specifically address social media.
The author of the paper suspects that the use of social media by the IRS likely goes against privacy rights, but that the agency has taken the approach of moving forward with the practice until “someone tells us we can’t.”
Why should taxpayers be concerned? Unfortunately, the IRS is not known for having great security. Data breaches are not uncommon. This could result in greater amounts of personal data getting into the wrong hands.
Audits also have potential for misuse. The IRS has faced accusations of using audits for political purposes. Just a few years ago, the agency was accused of targeting organizations that were affiliated with conservative groups like the tea party.
Due to these reasons it is concerning for the IRS to be digging into social media to gather information about taxpayers. Taxpayers that are contacted by the IRS should take the contact seriously. The information the IRS uses to build its case may not be accurate. The user is often not the only one posting on his or her account. Friends and family can also post on a user’s site. In these situations, it is wise to contact an attorney.