BY J. A. RIPPO
Making its way through Congress is a bill that will prevent you from traveling outside the USA if you owe money to the Internal Revenue Service. It also calls for recording devices to be placed in all new cars, beginning in 2015, to record mileage and to log destinations in order to collect a tax-per-mile charge planned by the federal government.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has sponsored bill SB 1813, which is called the Moving Ahead For Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21 for short. What does Barbara Boxer have to say about her bill? So far, nothing. Neither her offices in San Diego nor in Washington have answered ESPRESSO’s repeated requests for comment about SB 1813. Boxer seems to prefer silence rather than substance on such issues. Does she believe that by simply not speaking about her bill, she can avoid the inevitable wrath of her constituents?
The bill runs to 1,676 pages, most of which are about road improvements and other mundane matters, but section 40304 amends subchapter D of chapter 75 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 with a clause that revokes or denies passports in cases of some tax delinquencies. A taxpayer would only have to amass a debt of $50,000 or more before his or her passport would be cancelled or denied.
Some civil liberties advocates are raising alarms about Boxer’s bill. Among these are David Laszlo, a San Diego attorney and Constitutional law specialist working on challenges to Section 40304, even in advance of the bill’s passage.
“What should the IRS have to do with your passport?” Laszlo asked. “This bill is a Trojan Horse for government to attack citizenship without oversight or due process. If you notice, there is no limit to what the feds can claim is a ‘seriously delinquent tax debt’ and they can change the amount when they want to. Tax debts can escalate with fees, penalties and whatnot and you can be $50,000 in debt before you know it — and they can go back ten years on your records.”
Exceptions to the new rule allow for passports to be renewed if debts are being paid “in a timely manner” or if collections for tax debts are suspended during court hearings on the validity of government claims. Unspecified “humanitarian situations” may allow Americans out of the US, while those Americans abroad alleged to owe tax would find their passports altered by government for return to the US only. In essence, those passports would become a one-way ticket home.
There is no requirement for a judgment by a court. No conviction for fraud or evasion is necessary — merely a “certification by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue” that claims the government is owed money and which directs the Department of State to withhold or cancel your passport. The bill makes an end run around your right to due process; there is no provision for any review by any court of the government’s actions where your right to travel is concerned. But, if SB 1813 passes, traveling and driving in the United States will never be the same.
The bill automatically adjusts itself for inflation with a cost of living clause that bumps the trigger for revocation by increments of $1000, assessed yearly. If passed in its current form, SB 1813 will come into effect on January 1, 2013.
SB 1813 will, for the first time in US history, link the IRS to the Department of State for purposes of issuing a passport and will allow for the taxing authority to determine who may or may not travel. If the bill passes, it will alter the way government works by giving the IRS vastly increased administrative powers, where travel is concerned, which will far exceed the power of the US State Department. This extraordinary shift in government function – and its affect on every American — seems, so far, to have been ignored by media, though it is of great importance. If the bill passes, a mere administrative decision without any substantive due process will be enough to prohibit an American from going abroad — with the burden of proof on the taxpayer to show why he or she shouldn’t be penalized.
Laszlo said if ever a national identity card law came to pass, SB 1813’s language could be used to segregate Americans from opportunities, housing and benefits based on tax status. “This is a perfect way to legislate second class citizenship; no habeas corpus, no conviction needed, just an administrative finding that determines a person is guilty of a crime. And what will the states do if it passes? Does California get to stop you at a checkpoint and prevent you from going to New York because you owe them, too?”
The few lines of Section 40304 in Boxer’s bill are a game-changer, with respect to the relationship the American people has with its government. But, not many are concerned about this. Some point out that passports are already denied to felons and those who fail to pay court-ordered child support. But people denied passports for those reasons have at least been tried and found guilty by a jury of their peers in open court. For them, limits on travel is part of a criminal sentence and in keeping with traditional limits on government power.
As if Section 40304 weren‘t enough, other sections of the same bill will make “black box” event recorders mandatory on all new cars starting in 2015.
Section 53006 the “Vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications systems deployment,” requires vehicles to be installed with systems that constantly beam information about location and other diagnostics both to other vehicles, potentially police cars, and to infrastructure — presumably government monitors who will track car movements in real time, all the time.
Given that light poles are now being fitted with computers to both receive and broadcast wireless internet signals, this would be the easiest method of connecting all vehicles to the ‘Internet of things’ in the future.
Not only would this open the door to total surveillance of Americans’ traveling habits as well as constant real time eavesdropping of what is happening inside their vehicle, including audio sensors to record conversations, it would also grease the skids for a carbon tax system whereby drivers are charged by the mile.
Tax-by-the-mile ideas have been floated in California for the last decade and usually forecast a gas pump with a reader embedded in it that will communicate with a car to read its mileage and calculate a tax additional to the price of the gas. Drivers would have to pay the tax on the spot or be unable to drive for lack of fuel. In other, more draconian scenarios, the tax delinquent car wouldn’t be allowed to start until the bill for fuel and previous mileage was paid. Obviously, this would prove disruptive to both drivers and to business.
Boxer’s bill will speed the process and hasten the day when pumping gas will become a nasty surprise for those already struggling to make it through tough times.