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February 2020
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CBP Employees Obtain New Accountability Shield With 'Security Agency' Designation

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Our nation's border security agencies want to be national security agencies. ICE and CBP both made it clear they expected to be treated as Intelligence Community equals and given a seat at the grown-ups' surveillance table. They got their wish. Trump's "extreme vetting" wishes opened the door for the agencies' access to NSA collections late last year.The CBP's addition to the long list of Intelligence Community agencies gives it another layer of opacity. As Ken Klippenstein reports for The Nation, being added to the OPM's list of exemptions will make it even more difficult to obtain information via FOIA requests.

On Friday, the Trump administration quietly designated the entire Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, which polices US borders, as a “Security Agency,” according to an internal memo obtained by The Nation.
This puts CBP on the same playing field as secretive agencies like the FBI, DEA, and ATF. While ostensibly only concerned with border protection, the CBP's reach has been extended by its access to NSA collections and its personnel more insulated from accountability by this designation.
The memo states: “I am pleased to announce CBP has been designated as a Security Agency under Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) official Data Release Policy, effective immediately. Previously, only frontline law enforcement, investigative, or intelligence positions held this designation. This policy change now protects all CBP employee names from subsequent responses to Freedom of Information Act requests or other public disclosures for CGP employee data.”
Every CBP employee is now shielded from public scrutiny, no matter how much "security" work they're actually involved in. The memo obtained by The Nation came from a CBP contractor who blew the whistle on this bullshit designation. According to the unnamed source, they came forward to inform the public about an "absurd" designation that gives CBP employees a new layer of opacity they haven't earned.The memo says this new designation is a reaction to supposed "doxing" of CBP employees via a Twitter account that may have been run by an OPM employee. But it wasn't really "doxing." The information released was pulled from publicly-accessible OPM databases. If this is the case, this doesn't seem to justify unilaterally declaring CBP employees to be more equal than other federal employees not fortunate enough to work for one tasked with bringing President Trump's anti-immigration fantasies to life.CBP employees aren't special. And they're only "security" personnel in the loosest sense of the word. Just because they're involved in border security doesn't mean any exposure of their personal info would result in decreased employee safety or harm intelligence gathering. For that matter, the CBP isn't really in the intelligence gathering business and it's not known for operating extensive investigations utilizing undercover personnel who could suffer from being "outed" by publicly-available info. This is just opacity creep -- one that spreads from agency to agency like black mold. And it will make holding the agency accountable for its actions even more difficult when the public isn't able to pinpoint who's behind the latest string of abuses.

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Audit Indicates Intuit Made $1 Billion By Hiding Free File Program From The Public

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It's been quite a long and frustrating walk for us in covering the lengths to which Intuit went to hide the free to file tax program. This is the program that it is legally mandated to offer. If you're not caught up, the IRS struck a deal with the big tax prep companies out there, promising not to offer and expand its own free file programs, but only if companies like Intuit offer their own free file programs. Intuit did as instructed with its TurboTax product, except that the company then went about hiding the website for the free to file program from search engines and the internet, all while dropping the word "free" into as many places on the website for the paid services site it also runs. Then, because evil is an addictive drug, Intuit went ahead and lied to a bunch of customers to avoid refunding their money when it got caught in all this, informed its own employees that it bilked the public for their own good, and was even eventually found to have wrapped itself in the American flag while swindeling active duty soldiers as well.So, now you're caught up. But perhaps you're wondering why Intuit would risk all of the bad PR that comes with treating tax prep services like a game of three card monty. Well, the answer, according to a recent audit by the Treasury Inspector General, is because one-billion dollars.

More than 14 million taxpayers paid for tax prep software last year that they could have gotten for free, according to a scathing audit released Wednesday by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. That amounts to roughly a billion dollars in revenue for TurboTax maker Intuit, H&R Block and other tax software companies, according to a ProPublica analysis of tax prep fees.The audit, which was launched following ProPublica’s reporting last year, explores why so few taxpayers use the Free File program, a public-private partnership between the IRS and companies such as Intuit and H&R Block. Among the reasons, the audit found: the confusing design and complexity of the program and persistently lax oversight by the IRS.
I suppose if Intuit was asked precisely how much its soul was worth, we now have our answer. And, yet, this is still all very stupid in the end. Because now, thanks to ProPublica's reporting, the IRS has scrapped its moritorium on offering its own free to file program. So, by being so immensely greedy, Intuit turned what could have perhaps been a minor revenue generator instead into a combination of a PR shit sandwich and a competitor in the IRS. Well done?But, in case you thought Intuit would finally be in a place where it recognizes its misdeeds and is ready to turn this PR boat around, nooooooope.
In a statement, an Intuit spokesman said the company “consistently and publicly supported recommendations and efforts to strengthen the [Free File] program as part of our commitment to free tax preparation and our mission to empower individual taxpayers to manage their finances and receive every dollar they earned and deserve.” He added that “the majority of eligible tax filers using DIY software filed for absolutely free through the Free File Program or using commercial products.”Around 104 million taxpayers were eligible for Free File last year, according to the audit. Of those, just 2.4% actually used the free government program. Of the remaining 101.5 million, 67 million did not use tax software (most going to bricks-and-mortar tax prep services). The remaining 34.5 million used software to do their taxes, and of those, 14 million paid for tax prep they could have received for free.
So Intuit would rather play games in representing its numbers than simply admit to the truth. Not exactly the sort of thing you might want out of a tax prep service.

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