Saturday, December 28, 2013

Not News, Hardly Surprising, But Essential: Post Office Photos All Mail Covers For Law Enforcement

I missed this altogether five months ago when it was reported, but it is so much in keeping with all the stuff going down today that I believe it should be noted. From the NYT:

U.S. Postal Service Logging All Mail for Law Enforcement

Published: July 3, 2013

WASHINGTON — Leslie James Pickering noticed something odd in his mail last September: a handwritten card, apparently delivered by mistake, with instructions for postal workers to pay special attention to the letters and packages sent to his home.

“Show all mail to supv” — supervisor — “for copying prior to going out on the street,” read the card. It included Mr. Pickering’s name, address and the type of mail that needed to be monitored. The word “confidential” was highlighted in green.

“It was a bit of a shock to see it,” said Mr. Pickering, who with his wife owns a small bookstore in Buffalo. More than a decade ago, he was a spokesman for the Earth Liberation Front, a radical environmental group labeled eco-terrorists by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. ...


Mr. Pickering was targeted by a longtime surveillance system called mail covers, a forerunner of a vastly more expansive effort, the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program, in which Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year. It is not known how long the government saves the images.

Together, the two programs show that postal mail is subject to the same kind of scrutiny that the National Security Agency has given to telephone calls and e-mail.

It is hardly surprising that if email, telephone and web-based communications are subject to universal and warrantless government surveillance, so is plain old postal mail.

Warrantless? What about the Fourth Amendment's reference to "papers"? Well, since the name-and-address information outside an envelope is "voluntarily" given to a government entity (actually its agent, USPS), there is no need for a warrant. According to the article, "[t]ens of thousands" of pieces of mail out of the millions sent each year are scrutinized on behalf of law enforcement. Were you an activist when you were young? It could be your mail.

Your tax dollars and your postage at work...


  1. Wish they'd post them on Facebook so I could take a look...

    1. Don't worry, ntodd, I'm sure your mail is there...



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