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Why is IRS using cell phone tracking devices?

On Monday, The Guardian (a British newspaper) broke the story that the IRS had been using spent more than $70,000 in 2012 to upgrade and train employees on phone-spying technology, which is also used by a dozen other federal agencies. The briefcase-sized StingRay device mimics cellphone towers in order to collect identifying data sent through waves emitted from people’s phones, including their location. IRS head John Koskinen was testifying before Congress on a range of matters.

 

As reported by The Hill, a Washington-based news service, Koskinen said the IRS used the technology solely for criminal, not civil actions--money laudering, terrorism, and the financing of organized crime--and explained the usage of the technology as follows: “What it does is primarily allow you to see point-to-point where communications are taking place,” Koskinen said. “It does not allow you to overhear — the technique doesn’t — of voice communications.  You may pick up texting,” he acknowledged, “but I would stress: it follows the Justice Department rules, it requires a court order and it requires probable cause with regard to criminal investigations.”

 

The Hill went on to explain that scrutiny over the government's use of cellphone tracking tools has ramped up in recent months as the public has learned how widespread their use is among government agencies. In addition to the federal government, other parts of government--state, local, and police organizations--have been known to use the technology.  Members from both parties in Congress remain concerned that not enough limits of government power exist in this area.  And with Republican concerns still simmering over the IRS targeting of select non-profit groups, the Congressional IRS scrutiny will continue for some time.