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A Privacy Hit & Run – IRS Information Reporting & E-commerce Brokers

The IRS wants to expand the definition of a broker to include e-commerce marketplaces, like and eBay.  A plan being pushed by the federal government right now would require marketplace platforms to track details of all sales and “near-sales” transactions, and report directly to the IRS for tax purposes. As Hance Haney says in a post over at the Tech Liberation Front, this data collection, retention and reporting would raise significant privacy issues that should concern all Americans:

This is really another giant surveillance program, like the trial balloon the administration has previously floated to require internet service providers to retain customer data to combat crimes committed against children (as I’ve discussed here and here). In both cases, the government is trying to harness the unique capacity of the Internet to identify and document conduct in ways that were never feasible nor possible before — in this case ordinary commercial transactions that just happen to be conducted online.

Is the only criteria going to be whether the government could save money from imposing surveillance mandates on the private sector (which would operate indiscriminately against the innocent and the guilty alike) versus spending more for law enforcement (which must respect basic civil liberties) or other government programs? There might be little cause for worry if innocence were it’s “own shield” (but it isn’t), or if the government could be trusted to safeguard personal information (but it can’t). Not only do government agents falsely accuse people, but they lose their laptops every day.

If the IRS can get even more detailed data on more kinds of online transactions, don’t expect the federal government to start showing any discipline or respect for your privacy. Expect more data collection mandates in the future.