September 24, 2020

Wyden, Warren Call for Investigation of IRS Location Tracking Surveillance Program

 Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., today requested an inspector general investigation of the Internal Revenue Service's use of a commercial location tracking service without a court order, after agency officials confirmed the existence of the program this summer.

The IRS criminal investigations unit (IRS-CI) paid for access to a commercial surveillance database containing location data from millions of Americans’ mobile phones. In a call with Senate staff, IRS officials confirmed they used the product, offered by Venntel Inc., to search for information about Americans’ phones without a court order and had received approval to do so from the agency's lawyers.

“The IRS is not above the law and the agency’s lawyers should never provide IRS-CI investigators with permission to bypass the courts and engage in warrantless surveillance of Americans,” Wyden and Warren wrote to the IRS Inspector General. “Accordingly, we urge you to investigate IRS-CI’s use of commercial databases containing Americans’ information, including but not limited to Venntel’s location database.”

 The IRS subscribed to the Venntel database in 2017 and 2018, according to agency officials. However, it has failed to respond to multiple Senate requests for legal analysis or other justifications for the IRS use of powerful tracking technology without a court order, in clear violation of Americans' privacy rights protected by the Fourth Amendment. 

 The full letter to the inspector general is available here.

 Wyden and Warren have spent months probing data brokers' sale of Americans' location data, including at Constitutionally protected protests, and its use by the government without court orders.  The senators partnered with the House Oversight And Government Reform Committee to question Venntel’s practices earlier this year.