Tags: NSA/Surveillance | U.S. Postal Service | spy | mail | surveillance

NYTimes: Postal Service OK'd 50,000 Requests to Snoop in 2013

Tuesday, 28 Oct 2014 01:43 PM

The U.S. Postal Service has sparked a new mass surveillance storm by admitting that it approved almost 50,000 requests last year to secretly spy on the mail of Americans as part of criminal and national security investigations.

The number of requests from state and federal law enforcement agencies were revealed in a 2014 audit of the surveillance program by the Postal Service’s inspector general, according to The New York Times.

The review, along with documents obtained by the newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act, found that the Postal Service often approved requests to monitor a person’s mail without having proper written authorization or a comprehensive reason for the surveillance.

The audit questioned whether the secret snooping unnecessarily invaded people’s privacy, while it also raised concerns about the accuracy of handling the requests, the Times said, meaning whether the right person’s mail was actually being monitored.

"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," the audit concluded.

The review, which also showed that some monitoring requests came from the service’s own internal inspection unit, was originally posted in May on the website of the Postal Service inspector general, and received little attention at the time.

But now Theodore Simon, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, has slammed the snooping program, called "mail covers," which allows the Postal Service to apparently spy freely on the lives of Americans.

"It appears that there has been widespread disregard of the few protections that were supposed to be in place," Simon said.

Frank Askin, a law professor at the Rutgers Constitutional Rights Clinic, said he was also concerned about the program’s overreach.

"Postal Service employees are not judicial officers schooled in the meaning of the First Amendment," Askin said in an understated manner.

But the Postal Service noted that its spy program is far less intrusive than the National Security Agency’s mass data collection of phone and Internet records, which was initially exposed by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

"You can’t just get a 'mail cover' to go on a fishing expedition," said Paul Krenn, a spokesman for the Postal Inspection Service. "There has to be a legitimate law enforcement reason, and the mail cover can’t be the sole tool."

Under a mail cover request, postal workers record names, return addresses, and any other relevant information from the outside of letters and packages before they are delivered to an individual’s home. The actual opening of mail requires a warrant.

The data can lead to a wealth of information about the businesses and associates of people targeted by law enforcement agencies, such as bank and property records, and even criminal accomplices, according to the Times.

The Postal Service works closely with law enforcement agencies while they are investigating cases of terrorism, fraud, pornography, and other criminal activity.

The service uses a little-known program called Mail Imaging, in which its computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail sent in the United States, the newspaper said.

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The U.S. Postal Service has sparked a new mass surveillance storm by admitting that it approved almost 50,000 requests last year to secretly spy on the mail of Americans as part of criminal and national security investigations.
U.S. Postal Service, spy, mail, surveillance
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2014-43-28
Tuesday, 28 Oct 2014 01:43 PM
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