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If You Need Another Reason to Hate USPS, It Turns Out They're Spying on You

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Posted: Apr 21, 2021 11:00 PM
If You Need Another Reason to Hate USPS, It Turns Out They're Spying on You

Source: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

As if we need any other reason to be frustrated with the United States Postal Service (USPS), Jana Winter with Yahoo! News on Wednesday gave us one. "The Postal Service is running a 'covert operations program' that monitors Americans' social media posts," she reported.

Winter opened her piece with:

The law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service has been quietly running a program that tracks and collects Americans’ social media posts, including those about planned protests, according to a document obtained by Yahoo News.

The details of the surveillance effort, known as iCOP, or Internet Covert Operations Program, have not previously been made public. The work involves having analysts trawl through social media sites to look for what the document describes as “inflammatory” postings and then sharing that information across government agencies.

Understandably, Twitter was horrified, and confused, even and including those who aren't always in the same circles.

Adding to the confusion is that USPS didn't even succeed at whatever the heck they were supposed to do. A March 16 bulletin, which Winter includes in her piece, is marked as "law enforcement sensitive" and is actually "distributed through the Department of Homeland Security's fusion centers." Who would have thought that those two would be working together? The United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP) were supposed to be monitoring planned protests for March 20, 2021. "Locations and times have been identified for these protests, which are being distributed online across multiple social media platforms," which, as you may have guessed it, were "to include right-wing leaning Parler and Telegram accounts."

Winter also noted, with added emphasis:

A number of groups were expected to gather in cities around the globe on March 20 as part of a World Wide Rally for Freedom and Democracy, to protest everything from lockdown measures to 5G. “Parler users have commented about their intent to use the rallies to engage in violence. Image 3 on the right is a screenshot from Parler indicating two users discussing the event as an opportunity to engage in a ‘fight’ and to ‘do serious damage,’” says the bulletin.

“No intelligence is available to suggest the legitimacy of these threats,” it adds.

Experts are just as befuddled and disturbed as much of Twitter. Winter noted of the examples she included, "expressed alarm at the post office’s surveillance program." 

There's University of Chicago Law Professor Geoffrey Stone. Winter describes him as having the distinction as someone "whom President Barack Obama appointed to review the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks." He said "I don’t understand why the government would go to the Postal Service for examining the internet for security issues."

He said out loud what's likely on everyone's mind. "I just don’t think the Postal Service has the degree of sophistication that you would want if you were dealing with national security issues of this sort," Professor Stone said, also calling it "puzzling."

Rachel Levinson-Waldman, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s liberty and national security program said "This seems a little bizarre." She also pointed out how little was known about it, in addition to expressing her confusion. "Based on the very minimal information that’s available online, it appears that [iCOP] is meant to root out misuse of the postal system by online actors, which doesn’t seem to encompass what’s going on here. It’s not at all clear why their mandate would include monitoring of social media that’s unrelated to use of the postal system," she said. 

Even better is the confusion over authority and constitutionality. "If the individuals they’re monitoring are carrying out or planning criminal activity, that should be the purview of the FBI," Levinson-Waldman said. "If they’re simply engaging in lawfully protected speech, even if it’s odious or objectionable, then monitoring them on that basis raises serious constitutional concerns."

Does the USPS really not have anything better to do, than what are, at best, "unrelated" tasks, to quote the experts? Because we can think of plenty. One user tweeted that they're failing so miserably because they've been too busy on social media, using some pretty amusing points. 

Even though the tweet below was before such a damning report came out, it's still hilariously apt.

What do you know, USPS didn't even have a satisfactory response either. Their non-answer came in a kind of word salad statement, provided by Winter:

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service did not respond to specific questions sent by Yahoo News about iCOP, but provided a general statement on its authorities. 

“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is the primary law enforcement, crime prevention, and security arm of the U.S. Postal Service,” the statement said. “As such, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service has federal law enforcement officers, Postal Inspectors, who enforce approximately 200 federal laws to achieve the agency’s mission: protect the U.S. Postal Service and its employees, infrastructure, and customers; enforce the laws that defend the nation's mail system from illegal or dangerous use; and ensure public trust in the mail.”

“The Internet Covert Operations Program is a function within the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which assesses threats to Postal Service employees and its infrastructure by monitoring publicly available open source information,” the statement said.

“Additionally, the Inspection Service collaborates with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to proactively identify and assess potential threats to the Postal Service, its employees and customers, and its overall mail processing and transportation network. In order to preserve operational effectiveness, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service does not discuss its protocols, investigative methods, or tools.”

USPS also drew widespread attention and concern in time for the 2020 election, to do with delays as more people turned to mail-in voting as a result of the pandemic.

As Townhall reported extensively to do with the results of the 2020 presidential election, there were also disturbing allegations and questions of USPS' involvement in any kind of voter fraud.

Then again, it's not like the USPS is doing so well to begin with, including with finances and the need for bailouts. The post office has needed reform for a considerable amount of time now.

USPS actually took it upon themselves to respond to a column by Brian McNicoll published for Townhall. "Same Problems, Different Bailout for the Postal Service," McNicoll wrote in an April 22,2020 piece. Of all the critical pieces on this failing enterprise, they took notice of and addressed one published on our site. We'll take it as a compliment.