By Ken Berry
The IRS has come under fire recently for reportedly authorizing intrusions into e-mails and online postings without obtaining a search warrant. Now it appears that medical records might not be safe from the prying eyes of the nation's tax collection agency.
According to news reports from United Press International (UPI) and other reputable sources, an unnamed health care provider has sued the IRS and fifteen of its agents. The complaint alleges that sixty million medical records from ten million Americans were wrongfully seized. The Courthouse News Service said the class action lawsuit claims the IRS violated the Fourth Amendment in 2011 when its agents executed a search warrant for financial data on one employee and it snowballed into the seizure of records of ten million Americans.
The complaint said the search warrant failed to specify that the IRS could investigate medical records. Furthermore, information technology (IT) officials warned that the seizure might violate medical privacy laws before the search warrant was executed.
"No search warrant authorized the seizure of these records; no subpoena authorized the seizure of these records; none of the 10,000,000 Americans were under any kind of known criminal or civil investigation, and their medical records had no relevance whatsoever to the IRS search. IT personnel at the scene, a HIPAA facility warning on the building and the IT portion of the searched premises, and the company executives each warned the IRS agents of these privileged records," the complaint read.
"Despite knowing that these medical records were not within the scope of the warrant, defendants threatened to 'rip' the servers containing the medical data out of the building if IT personnel would not voluntarily hand them over," it continued. "Moreover, even though defendants knew that the records they were seizing were not included within the scope of the search warrant, the defendants nonetheless searched and seized the records without making any attempt to segregate the files from those that could possibly be related to the search warrant. In fact, no effort was made at all to even try maintaining the illusion of legitimacy and legality."
The complaint says that the medical records included information on psychological counseling, gynecological counseling, sexual and drug treatment, and other sensitive medical treatment data.
According to the UPI, the lawsuit also alleges the IRS unlawfully seized telephone records of the firm's workers. The company is seeking $25,000 per violation in compensatory damages. It also says that the massive seizure could affect up to one in twenty-five Americans. As of this writing, the IRS has not issued any official comment.