Privacy Blog

"Friends don’t let friends get spied on.' – Richard Stallman, President of the Free Software Foundation and longtime advocate of privacy in technology.

Washington State University Professor says IRS is Breaking Privacy Laws by Mining Social Media

Is the Taxman cyberstalking you? People should be aware “that what they say and do online” could be used against them by the IRS, said Kimberly Houser, an associate professor of business law in WSU’s Carson College of Business.

“Those Facebook posts from your vacation on a white sand beach, or that purchase of a fancy new vehicle, could be attracting views from the federal government. As its staff shrinks, the Internal Revenue Service has turned to mining social media and large data sets in search of taxpayers to audit, a Washington State University professor says in a recent report in the Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law.”

In one case, a Florida woman was convicted after bragging about being the ‘Queen of Tax Fraud’ on Facebook. Be careful what you post online!

Houser’s comment:

“My instinct is that because the law is not worded as broadly as it could be to cover these situations, the IRS has just taken the stance of ‘Let’s just do what we can until someone tells us we can’t.’ ”

Her report says the IRS mines commercial and public data, including social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The information is added to IRS databases and algorithms are used to identify potential tax evaders.

Hauser said,

“We have laws in place to prevent the government from doing certain things with our data,” she said, “and it doesn’t seem like the IRS is complying.”

You can read more at while the entire text of Houser’s 55-page report is available at:

Categories: Legal Affairs

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