Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

By Peter Aldhous

We have a lot of really stupid things done that are authorized by law.

Just go read about the police who found a bent giraffe in an alley in New York. That's dumb.

Similarly, the Justice Department has authorized watching databases from security cameras. Now let's check in on a little-known NSA program called Prism, which reads every text message that passes through a phone — that's actually kind of dumb because the government has no way of knowing how much information they get or whether it could be abused. The idea behind Prism is to keep tabs on terrorism suspects, or at least to show that innocent Americans are getting targeted by spy satellites.

But now, the feds are relying less on subversion by terrorists and more on IRS isssues, as a way to turn American citizens into targets. I'm not talking about just old material from the public and private servers, like Sony's movie library. According to The Intercept's two-month investigation, the NSA will now follow individuals from their first address on a voter registration site to places where they live. The government could use this information to spy on a subdistrict, on a congressional district, in a state, to single out people who have registered to vote. And some of the information will come from taxpayers who are also eligible to register, such as people who get an eviction notice from the local government office. If the government determines that someone is a potential tax cheat, they will check their social security numbers against IRS databases to get an early warning sign. This opens the possibility of giving the government access to even the tax forms of everyday Americans.

Read the full story at Politico.