WASHINGTON (AP) — An internal Postal Service audit says about 49,000 pieces of mail were monitored during the last fiscal year under a far-reaching federal surveillance program and more oversight is needed to ease privacy concerns.
Under the program, called "mail covers," information on the outside of a piece of mail is recorded for use in law enforcement investigations. Postal Service spokeswoman Toni DeLancey said it "authorized only under limited circumstances."
But the audit also said there were insufficient controls in place to make sure that law enforcement requests for surveillance were being handled properly. In some cases, the audit said "responsible personnel did not always handle and process" those requests.
"Insufficient controls could hinder the Postal Inspection Service's ability to conduct effective investigations, lead to public concerns over privacy of mail, and harm the Postal Service's brand," it said.
The agency's office of inspector general says this could create public concerns over privacy of mail, and harm the Postal Service's ability to conduct effective investigations if not overhauled.
The auditors said that of 196 external "mail cover" requests that it surveyed, 21 percent were approved without written authorization and 15 percent were not adequately justified or the reasons for them were not transcribed accurately.
The audit looked at the federal government's mail tracking program in the fiscal year that ran from Oct. 1 2013 to September 30, 2014.
The May 2014 audit, which was reported on Tuesday by the New York Times and earlier by Politico, is available on the website of the Postal Service's Office of Inspector General.
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