Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Gibbs and the IRS

Everything on the Net is for public consumption. This should be one of Gibbs' rules. You NCIS watchers know what I mean.

This is something I've been told since I first got access to email back in the technological dark ages. The company's IT folk constantly reminded us not to put something into an email that we didn't want the entire world to read. They told us there are no secrets in the electronic world.  Digital communication is truly for the masses. I heard this warning long before lawyers began subpoenaing email records or human resource departments started scanning Facebook posts.  

Email doesn't go directly from my computer to yours. It passes through several other computers along the way. At each stop, it can be (and is) read by technicians, programmers, and others who are bored or troubleshooting. I heard many stories from night operators who said they read emails during their breaks.

The IRS was in the news on April 10th but it wasn't due to the approach of tax day. The ACLU obtained documents indicating that the IRS doesn't think email is private.  (Read about it here.)  For that matter, Facebook chats and other forms of digital communication aren't either.  My reaction is "yeah, so?"

Where has the ACLU been?  If they wanted to argue this, they should have started about thirty years ago. Fortunately for them, they have powerful allies who will fight the fight for them.  The companies behind digital communication (Amazon, Microsoft, and Google to name just a few) want prying eyes wandering through their emails less than we do.  So changes to the law have been presented in both the House and Senate.  Warrants will be required before the IRS or any other agency can obtain certain digital material.

Regardless of the legislative outcome, I'll stick with my own version of a Gibbs' rule.  If it can be read by a computer, it can be read by anyone at any time.

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