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IRS Following You on Facebook?

Is The IRS Following You On Facebook?

New reports brought to light by privacy and data security expert Kristen Mathews, a partner attorney at law firm Proskauer Rose LLP who specializes in privacy and data security, suggest that this tax filing season the Internal Revenue Service may be monitoring social media for any clues of tax cheats.

Though the agency says that it will only conduct such monitoring if a tax form raises a red flag, it is somewhat unclear to what extent it will be capable of delving into social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook.

Social media tools used by marketing companies, for example, are capable of conducting widespread searches for certain keywords, and though they can often take advantage of small “loopholes” in Facebook privacy settings, they are generally limited to publicly divulged information.

There are already plenty of instances where information collected through both Twitter and Facebook has been used to file criminal charges against individuals. Just last week, New York officials announced the indictment of 63 East Harlem gang members, whose movements were tracked with the help of clues they left behind on their social media accounts.

So far, most concerns regarding the government’s surveillance of social media have been focused on the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. Organizations such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center have filed Freedom of Information Act requests and even gone to court to acquire more details on just what kind of data the government is looking for, and whether their monitoring tools could exceed privacy settings.

Raytheon, one of America's largest defense contractors, is working on a tool called “Riot” that could not only mine information from social networking websites, but even predict behavior based on data. Riot is allegedly able to extract data embedded on photographs shared via social media, for example, to provide geographic information to track an individual’s actual movements, and collect an “entire snapshot of a person's life” in short order.

Though there’s no evidence that an agency such as the IRS has yet resorted to such a powerful degree of monitoring.  But it makes sense for tax preparation professionals to note the possibility to their clients, and to warn that frivolous comments or travel postings to social media could bring the taxpayer to government attention even if none is warranted.

 

by Industry Writer, Dave McClure

 

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