Should every federal agency be on surveillance duty? What if the mailman is the one looking through the peephole?
The United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) dates back to 1772, when Benjamin Franklin created the position of "Surveyor" to audit postal accounts and investigate mail theft.
Over time, the USPIS has become the law enforcement arm of the United States Postal Service, enforcing laws that protect USPS employees, postal buildings, customers, and other crimes involving postal mail.
Inspecting mail and investigating mail crimes, for a country as large as the United States, is an enormous task. This is especially difficult for an organization that originated in the 18th century with the responsibility to assist in delivering physical mail safely and effectively.
While it is true that the USPIS enjoys broad jurisdiction, it is disturbing that this institution has taken upon itself to expand beyond the scope of its mandate to implement what it calls the Internet Covert Operations Program, also known as iCOP.
This illegal and unconstitutional program combs through social media posts of Americans looking for politically charged or "inflammatory" material that it somehow may deem dangerous to its operations, then shares any such findings across government agencies.
However, according to USPIS’s own Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale, there have been no actionable findings under iCOP’s social media trawling, evidencing its precarious nature and misplaced scope.
On April 21, 2021, Yahoo! News shed light on USPIS’s "Situational Awareness Bulletin," detailing the surveillance of Americans who shared certain information on "right-wing leaning Parler and Telegram accounts."
Based on scarce public information, USPIS frames iCOP as a program to identify and reduce criminal misuse of the postal system.
However, social media spying goes well beyond "misuse of the postal system."
This covert program raises concerns, not only because it’s outside the agency’s jurisdiction and a waste of taxpayer dollars, but also because it’s evidence of the rise in more government-sanctioned spying on its own citizens.
The Surveillance State is adding yet another spyglass to its collection of creeping tools and supplies. Running clandestine domestic surveillance programs on Americans’ social media activity is not aligned with the role, duty, and scope of the USPIS.
Yes, USPIS does have cybercrime authority, which is "committed to protecting the public from criminals who steal digital information for financial gain, revenge, or even political advantage."
However, last time I checked, serious cybercriminals do not announce their intention to commit crimes on Facebook or Parler before they act. This operation is duplicative and misplaced, as a handful of other agencies already exist to surveil Americans, the propriety of which I will not discuss today.
iCOP is outside USPIS’s jurisdiction and infringes on American citizens’ civil liberties.
I disagree that taxpayers should fund yet another spying program in the federal government, much less one ran by the mailman.
That is why I, along with nine colleagues, introduced the USPIS Surveillance Protection Act, a bill that would defund iCOP.
Of course, my colleagues and I agree that national security is important, but it should not come at the expense of civil liberties; the growing Surveillance State is not synonymous with more national security.
The guise of national security does not suffice as a predicate for this program and neither does the guise of ensuring safe mail delivery.
It is my duty in Congress to take action and cut spending for nonsensical programs, such as iCOP. We have plenty of other agencies and organizations that may claim legal jurisdiction for surveillance, but USPIS is not one of them.
Rep. Matt Gaetz represents Florida’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives
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