Data security and online privacy are huge concerns these days, as more and more of us are living our lives plugged into the Internet. It’s never been more important to protect your Facebook profile and keep your personal information private. Most of us are simply interested in doing this out of a desire to remain private. But for some, there may be more to worry about than your grandma seeing photos from last Saturday’s toga party.
Of course, data mining is nothing new. Many different entities, from marketing groups to university researches, have long examined what people say publically on social networks. Recently, however, there have been allegations that the Internal Revenue Service will begin monitoring Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Why? To see if they can spot any indications that people might be cheating on their taxes. If this speculation is true, some serious privacy concerns are about to be raised.
A Big Brother Problem?
Needless to say, there are a lot of people who are pretty alarmed that the IRS would even think about “spying” via social media.
Kristen Mathews works at law firm Proskauer Rose, LLP. They specialize in issues of data security and electronic privacy, and they’re pretty keen on finding out a little bit more information from the IRS. Mathews and her firm allege that the IRS will start checking out individuals’ posts on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter, to find evidence of cheating or fraud.
This won’t be done in some kind of Person of Interest-esque mass spying operation, however. The IRS has said that individuals will only be monitored if red flags are raised. Still, the thought of the IRS trolling your Twitter is cause for concern.
But this isn’t really the first time social media has been used to track what one could call criminal behavior. Social media tracking was used very recently to put away a few dozen serious criminals in New York. According to RT.com:
“Just last week, New York officials announced the indictment of 63 East Harlem gang members, whose movements were tracked with the help of clues they left behind on their social media accounts.”
Of course, there’s a big difference between something like tax evasion and other crimes like gang affiliation. But where should the line be drawn? Is it acceptable to track the movements of gang members by way of their social media accounts? Is it less acceptable for the IRS to do the same with those that are dodging their taxes or committing fraud?
A Potentially Slippery Slope for Online Privacy
This speculation raises a number of questions, including “Where does it end?” The IRS hasn’t been forthcoming in response to the allegations that they’ll begin actively monitoring social media. Furthermore, no indication has been made as to just how thoroughly the agency will be looking through any profiles it deems worthy of investigating. Nor has the IRS indicated how long these investigations might last.
These are all things that organizations like the Electronic Privacy Information Center would really like to know. As such, they’ve put in Freedom of Information Act requests, in the interest of learning a little more about just how the IRS plans to “monitor social networks.”
This news comes on the heels of a pretty disturbing announcement. Raytheon, one of the government’s largest defense contractors, is developing a product called “Riot.”
This program reportedly extracts data from an individual’s social media profile(s) in a very efficient way, says RT.com. We’re talking about a “snapshot of your entire life” kind of idea. In a matter of minutes.
It’s understandable that a few people are concerned upon hearing this recent news about the IRS. Many of us are already concerned about how much information we publicly display on the Internet.
Whether or not the IRS is really going to start “spying” on your Facebook or Twitter accounts, this is a perfect reminder that what we say online often stays on record.
What kind of measures do you take to limit the things people can find out about you online? Let us know in the comments!