Senators probe IRS use of surveillance tools

Senators probe IRS use of surveillance tools

Top lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee are demanding information on the Internal Revenue Service's use of a controversial surveillance device.

Committee Chair Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyPavlich: The claim Trump let the mentally ill get guns is a lie Congress fails miserably: For Asian-Americans, immigration proposals are personal attacks Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees MORE (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyGrassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees Popular bill to fight drug prices left out of budget deal Judiciary Dems want public hearings with Kushner, Trump Jr. MORE (D-Vt.) sent a letter Thursday to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, pressing him on whether the agency is using devices that can track cellphones.

The message follows a report from The Guardian that the IRS spent thousands of dollars upgrading the technology — known as StingRays — that imitate cell towers to determine the location of cellphones. The devices can also gather information related to the phone’s owner or contacts.

Civil liberties activists have called attention this year to the practice of using the devices without a warrant. Leahy and Grassley said that the “devices indiscriminately gather information about the cell phones of innocent people who are simply in the vicinity of the device."

“We were surprised to learn that IRS investigators may be using these devices,” they said.

They asked Lew to respond with information about whether the agency had used the technology and if it had policies in place governing the handling of data collected by the devices. They also asked whether the devices were used without a warrant.

Pressure from the two senators and public interest groups has already resulted in two agencies, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, rolling out more stringent policies for the use of the devices.

Both agencies now require agents to obtain warrants to use the technology in some cases. Privacy advocates have expressed concerns, however, about exemptions in the policies.