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Government Cellphones Privacy

The IRS Has Stingray Devices (theguardian.com) 83

An anonymous reader writes: The Guardian reports that the use of stingray technology — devices that simulate cell towers in order to gather phone data — is not limited to intelligence agencies and law enforcement. It turns out the Internal Revenue Service owns some of the devices as well. It's unknown how or why the tax agency uses the stingray devices. The only reason The Guardian figured it out was that they happened to see an IRS invoice from when they paid a company to upgrade one of their devices and provide training on its use. It's thought they're being used when the IRS collaborates with other agencies to knock down money laundering operations. "... there are currently between 2,000 and 3,000 "special agents" in the IRS who form the criminal investigation division (CID). They have the ability to get PEN register orders – the only authority needed to use Stingray devices."
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The IRS Has Stingray Devices

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  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @07:23PM (#50806341) Homepage Journal
    I'd think they'd be using them on their own employees, given the shenanigans at the IRS over the past few years.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      The IRS is not just about collecting taxes anymore. It's about hindering political movements that the current administration doesn't like. The IRS chief in charge of the persecution of Tea Party groups, more or less, flipped the bird at Congress, and walked off with a juicy pension. Not that I like Tea Party groups, but I'm just wondering where Hilary will strike next.

      • Heh. Remember the olden days, before we knew what we know now, when this post would have been insightful?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    We'll see that agencies of all types will have been using these. I can see how the military may feel compelled to switch these on around bases to eavesdrop after the Fort Hood shooting, and the IRS when conducting Department of Treasury-related investigations to bring down Al Capone might need one on a stake out, but these are exceptions rather than daily operations. Are we all really well served by just any government department messing about with communications?

    For example, do rail transport officials nee

  • This is the government mind-set of us versus them. Rather than have departments handle things like investigations and smart information sharing, power brokers compartmentalize, see what other agencies have, and then decide they need it for themselves. We have dod/cia/nsa/dia/dhs/atf/doj/local police/state police/city police/etc/etc. Sometimes they play ball and sometimes they don't. When they don't or cant because of inefficiency or ineptness, they just buy what they want and bam, duplicity and overlap arri
  • by tnk1 ( 899206 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @07:26PM (#50806357)

    The IRS has a law enforcement group that frequently goes after organized crime. I'd imagine they need to spy on criminal communications as much as anyone.

    Aside from wondering whether any agency should have them, I don't know what makes the IRS worthy of note as an operator.

    • by aaron4801 ( 3007881 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @07:36PM (#50806411)
      The FBI is part of the DOJ, which recently announced that they were going to get warrants before deploying their Stingrays. The IRS is part of the Treasury Department, which is OK with using them with only a Pen Register request.
      In cases where the agencies are working together, it's likely they have IRS agents use their own device with the much lower standard of evidence, per department policy.
      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        The IRS works with it's own court system and probably has it's own rules of evidence. So it would make sense for the FBI and IRS to run seperate surveilance operations.

    • by JBMcB ( 73720 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @07:44PM (#50806449)

      Because most people don't realize that nearly every executive agency has an armed "enforcement" division. It's unbelievably inefficient. There's already an executive branch agency tasked with enforcing federal law - the FBI. Why we also need the treasury department, EPA, BLM, Fish & Wildlife agency, the IRS, the NIH, NOAA, Postal Service, etc... is beyond me.

      We need the border patrol, the secret service, and the FBI. Need something guarded? Hire the border patrol. Need something investigated? Call the FBI.

      • by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @08:20PM (#50806597) Homepage Journal

        Because generalization leads to it's own inefficiencies. The EPA is good on pollution. Fish & Wildlife knows how to manage wildlife stuff.

        That being said, you are correct in wondering why they aren't subdivisions of the FBI.

        • One historical reason is that a lot of the other agencies were created during the period between 1924 and 1972, the 48 years when J. Edgar Hoover was head of the FBI, and nobody really wanted to give him more power if they could help it.

          • J. Edgar Hoover was head of the FBI, and nobody really wanted to give him more power if they could help it.

            A perfectly logical move, come to think of it. Honestly, the federal government is large enough that some police for most of it's branches makes some sense.

            Plus, by having each 'police department' in it's own agency, you don't have the problems of them getting distracted all going after pedophiles or something. Good for catching pedophiles, but eventually allowing the polluters, poachers, bank transfer fraudsters, and everybody else 'off the hook' isn't a good outcome either.

            • by JBMcB ( 73720 )

              Plus, by having each 'police department' in it's own agency, you don't have the problems of them getting distracted all going after pedophiles or something.

              The agencies could still have investigators, but if they are worried about safety they can have an FBI officer assigned to them.

              The EPA's specialty should be investigating pollution, not defusing a potentially violent situation, which is what the FBI should be used for.

        • Because generalization leads to it's own inefficiencies. The EPA is good on pollution. Fish & Wildlife knows how to manage wildlife stuff.

          That being said, you are correct in wondering why they aren't subdivisions of the FBI.

          Absolutely. During the run up to fishing season, The PA F&W cops go around with the stocking trucks, because sometimes kookier fishermen who don't understand that you aren't supposed to fish while the fish are tumbling out of the nets can interfere with the stocking process. These are real LEO's only they tend to be a lot friendlier because 99.9 percent of us just enjoy watching and chatting with the stockers and F&W cops.

          I'm trying to imagine the response of the outrage set if State Police or FBI

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Because most people don't realize that nearly every executive agency has an armed "enforcement" division. It's unbelievably inefficient. There's already an executive branch agency tasked with enforcing federal law - the FBI. Why we also need the treasury department, EPA, BLM, Fish & Wildlife agency, the IRS, the NIH, NOAA, Postal Service, etc... is beyond me.

        We need the border patrol, the secret service, and the FBI. Need something guarded? Hire the border patrol. Need something investigated? Call the FBI.

        You obviously are using the wrong definition of "efficient".

        It's "efficient" in making sure We The People don't get out of line.

        Yay.

        <SARCASM>Let's give this government more resources, more money, and more power. It won't be used against us! Come on, pay your fair share!</SARCASM>

        Jesus H. Fucking Christ, ANYONE who believes (n.b. I did NOT use "thinks") this US government needs MORE revenue is beyond reason.

        NSA wiretapping - if they had more money, there'd be less power abuses!

        IRS with Stingray

      • by mtmra70 ( 964928 )

        Fish & Wildlife/DNR makes sense. Most of the time its one person in a remote area which is both taking care of the area and also enforcing law. Furthermore given the environment, protection is needed from the very resources they are protecting. It makes perfect sense to have them armed and empowered.

        As for most of the others, I agree they should leverage the FBI or other proper enforcement agencies.

      • On what basis are you calling it inefficient? Do you really think they should devote classes at Quantico to cover crimes that only involve things sent through the postal service? Would getting the postal service employees cooperation be easier if they saw the enforcement coming from outside their agency? Are you also against arson investigators being part of the Fire Department?

        Just because you can call two different things "investigation" doesn't mean the process for each is going to work the same, o
    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Re "spy on criminal communications"
      Thats fine in other distant nations where a US agency with in-house intelligence collection can work in both the intelligence and enforcement roles.
      If another nation has few laws and allows US technical methods to be used over vast areas 24/7 thats international cooperation.
      The main issue for US public courts is unsafe convictions been reexamined given collect it all parallel construction at a city, state, parish level with devices and federal support.
      Are the officia
    • IRS investigators also watch the "tax protesters" who regularly file returns claiming they owe no taxes due to the sixteenth amendment not being properly ratified and other random conspiracy theories. When I worked at the IRS I got these returns all the time. We forwarded them to the criminal investigation unit.

      I did get to see a few tax returns AFTER they went to CI; they were fairly interesting. Everything you would ever want to know about these people was attached in a report, sometimes hundreds of pa

  • You should have nothing to hide, citizen.
    • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @07:33PM (#50806397)

      Whether I have something to hide is none of your business, government.

      Whether I break the law or don't is. What I'm hiding in the privacy of my home is my business and nobody else's.

      • It's funny, I got grilled about twice as hard coming into the US by land from Canada as I have been on flights from Mexico and overseas. I mean, I understand some of this, but when the border guard asks me where I'm from, I'm like, I know your cameras have already read my license plate and you have a picture of my house on your computer. Search my trunk if you want to. Otherwise, just let me go.
  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @07:31PM (#50806377)
    with lasers!
  • Hang on... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Monday October 26, 2015 @07:33PM (#50806393) Homepage

    the use of stingray technology is not limited to intelligence agencies and law enforcement.

    there are currently between 2,000 and 3,000 "special agents" in the IRS who form the criminal investigation division (CID).

    Does that not count as law enforcement? I mean, yeah, it's tax, so it's not one of the cool crimes, but still.

    • by jrumney ( 197329 )

      Does that not count as law enforcement?

      By today's standards it would only count if they are driving around in armored troop carriers.

  • are stingrays illegal to purchase? are they difficult to build? this would be an awesome hobby project.

  • All your freedom is belong to Russia.

    Way to sell out your freedom for Security Paranoia, America!

  • "What is your hypothetical administration going to do to end this nonsense of the federal government spying on it's citizens without a warrant when:
    1- Historical information shows clearly that incidents of crime and terrorism have not been reduced in a credible way by warrantless wiretapping of citizens.
    2- Warrantless wiretapping has lead to trials where the first and fourth amendment rights of the defendants has been largely ignored
    3- Evide

  • The only reason The Guardian figured it out was that they happened to see an IRS invoice from when they paid a company to upgrade one of their devices and provide training on its use.

    I would have thought, with The Leveson Inquiry and all, that if a newspaper managed to get hold of such a device they'd keep quiet about it.

  • Special agents tap phones in the pursuit of legal cases. Its not that shocking that the IRS has stingrays. The FDA probably has them too. Back in the 80s I had a friend whose phone was tapped by the IRS because he was a manager for an idiot that absconded with the employee withholding and blew that money along with another million or so dollars at a strip club. It took the IRS a while to believe that the business owner really was that big of an idiot and they did a thorough investigation before decidin
  • Here's how it goes:

    1) Give stingray technology to multiple agencies.

    2) Reduce the number of stingrays your agency operates to avoid those pesky congressional investigations AND reduce your yearly operating budget.

    3) Get data from other agencies on request.

    4) Profit!

  • "If I were not in the CID..."
  • So when are cell phone comms going to be encrypted? Why should operators like T-mobile and Sprint allow this to continue? AT&T/Verizon are hopelessly corrupt at this point. I only hold out hope where there's some desire for competition.

    What can be encrypted using existing technologies and what can't?

  • It's my understanding that to catch crooks (in this case, the IRS) with a Stingray, you need to set it up near the crooks. It's not a bug that you plant in their phone and give the phone back to them.

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