Congress ‘surprised’ IRS is using secret spy technology that tracks cell phones

DC NEWSBy Casey Harper

The top Committee on the Judiciary senators expressed surprise at recent reports that the IRS is using secret spy technology usually reserved for law enforcement to track cell phones. Now Sens. Chuck Grassley and Patrick Leahy have sent a letter of inquiry to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew asking for an explanation.

The Guardian reported this week that the IRS spent tens of thousands on Sting Rays, devices used by authorities that act like cell phone towers and intercept cell phone signals that would normally go to cellular towers. This allows authorities to track where you are, usually without a warrant and often without a court order. Some Sting Rays can even detect information about your texts, calls and emails.

“We were surprised to learn that IRS investigators may be using these devices,” the senators wrote in the letter. “While the devices can be useful tools for identifying the location of a suspect’s cell phone or identifying an unknown cell phone, we have previously expressed concerns about the privacy implications of these devices, as well as the inconsistent practices and policies across the federal, state and local agencies that employ them.  The devices indiscriminately gather information about the cell phones of innocent people who are simply in the vicinity of the device.”

The senators sent the letter Thursday after news broke that the IRS had spent $70,000 in 2012 on the Sting Ray technology.

Adam Bates, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that since the IRS does have some law enforcement responsibilities, such as in structuring and money laundering cases, its not too surprising they have the technology. He said it is likely all federal law enforcement agencies use the technology.

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