In response to questions by US Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen committed to seeking warrants for future use of cell-site simulator technology. The devices, often referred to as Stingrays, can be used to track cell phones and intercept information about calls.
The IRS said cell-site simulators are used exclusively for criminal investigations and that its policy mirrors the Justice Department’s, which requires warrants to use the devices, except in exigent or exceptional circumstances.
Wyden said the new policy puts important safeguards on the IRS use of tracking devices.
“The IRS has an important role to play in combating money laundering, drug trafficking, and international tax dodging, but tax enforcement and protection of personal privacy must not be mutually exclusive,” Wyden said. “The IRS is taking reasonable steps to protect due process, while using all the tools at its disposal to catch people who may be ripping off U.S. taxpayers.”
The IRS also disclosed new details about its use of cell-site simulators.
According to the IRS, the agency has owned 1 cell-site simulator since October 2011, and is in the process of purchasing a second.
The IRS said it has tracked 37 cellular devices using the device, as part of 11 federal investigations and it has used the cell-site simulator to assist in four non-IRS investigations – one federal case and three state cases.
To better protect Americans’ privacy, Wyden has introduced the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act (GPS Act), with Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, which would require a warrant for any government tracking of Americans’ electronic location data. The bill would apply to stingrays, cellphones, cars and any other device.