Not too long ago, my neighborhood’s Internet chat room was abuzz with anger at the county government (well … more than the usual anger). People were upset because of county government spying via aerial drones.
These drones aren’t being used to assist in law enforcement, firefighting or anything else to do with protecting life and limb. They’re being used to increase our taxes.
According to Georgia law, the county is responsible for updating residential property valuations every few years. But the county in which I live is badly run and perpetually short of money, so they struggled to find competent appraisers to go door-to-door.
So in an “aha!” moment (occurring with increasing frequency in bureaucracies across the nation), the county decided to turn to one of the nifty technologies developed in our country’s endless “wars” in the Middle East — aerial spy-cameras.
Apparently the IRS had its “aha” moment as well … and it’s coming to your house soon.
From Baghdad to a Street Near You
In my neighborhood, drone-mounted spy-cams are used to identify extensions and other improvements that could add to a property’s value. (They are also used to levy fines for “unauthorized” renovations.) For example, one neighbor’s valuation increased by over $20,000 because she laid cheap pavers in her backyard to form a patio, which the county decided was a “driveway.”
I’ve long warned that any technology developed by the government to conduct its wars and policing will inevitably be put to use against innocent citizens. My predictive track record in this regard is 100%.
License-plate readers developed to monitor traffic in Iraqi cities are now being used to track drivers here at home and to compile databases of our movements. The colossally wasteful JLENS surveillance blimps outside Baltimore were initially designed to hover over Kabul, Afghanistan. The same airborne surveillance tools used in Iraq and Afghanistan have been deployed by the FBI to spy on lawful public gatherings in Baltimore, Milwaukee and other cities.
Even the gear and tactics that law enforcement agencies use these days are copied directly from the war zone — such as the Department of Homeland Security’s “forward operating bases” in the border areas of the Southwest.
Now the IRS has picked up on another wartime innovation: the “Stingray.”
Stingray technology is so prized by the government that prosecutors have agreed to drop cases rather than disclose information about it, even in serious criminal cases. The U.S. Marshals Service once forcibly seized documents about the use of Stingrays in order to keep them from being delivered under a public records request by the American Civil Liberties Union. They invoked the Homeland Security Act to justify their action.
Eyes and Ears in the Sky
The Stingray is a sophisticated cellphone dragnet device that mimics a cell tower, scanning all cellphone signals in a given area and monitoring communications on them. It can be deployed on the ground or by air. At least 57 agencies in 22 states and the District of Columbia have Stingrays.
It turns out there’s a good reason the government will go so far as to use laws designed to combat terrorism to prevent the public from finding out more about the Stingray. Despite constant government denials, Stingrays can be used to capture and record voice calls and text messages.
Another reason for the government’s reticence? Although police forces around the country have justified their acquisition of Stingray technology as “vital to the war on terrorism,” a recent study shows that, in most cases, Stingrays are only used for domestic law enforcement, particularly related to the so-called “War on Drugs” and financial “crimes.”
Now we find that the IRS has had Stingray technology since 2009, upgrading it regularly and spending thousands on training its Criminal Investigation agents in its use.
As Ye Sow, So Shall Ye Reap
The path from our failed wars (both abroad and at home) to Stingrays as a tax-enforcement tool is clear. One former Deputy IRS Commissioner said that when agents worked with the FBI to detect money laundering by drug organizations, “the IRS had … learned a lot of aggressive techniques … and these bad habits were leaking over into the tax world, which was supposed to be their real mission.”
I rest my case.
Every day, government spying is being honed into tools that can be used to take your wealth. The only way to stop them is to move some of your wealth out of the reach of Stingrays, license-plate scanners and tax-enforcement drones.
Want to know how? Click here.
Offshore and Asset Protection Editor