We all know the FBI, CIA, and Department of Homeland Security conduct surveillance operations and spying. Even private companies mine our data to gauge us as consumers. But now we're learning that even the venerable old post office is spying on us. A new report by Yahoo News reveals the U.S. Postal Service is running something called the Internet Covert Operations Program (ICOP) within its Postal Inspection Service, and that ICOP is used to monitor social media postings of Americans, ostensibly looking for suspicious activity.
As to be expected, privacy advocates are raising major concerns. "A lot of information can get caught up when you start monitoring social media, and that includes people who are merely engaged in First Amendment-protected activities," says Jeramie Scott, senior counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).
Scott is equally concerned that the postal service is sharing this info. "Much of that information on U.S. citizens' First Amendment-protected activities is being distributed to a bunch of other agencies," he says. "Of course, this is very problematic."
The Yahoo report has prompted widespread condemnation from across the political spectrum, with Sen. Ted Cruz and the ACLU both demanding answers. Scott tells KTRH there are specific questions the USPS needs to answer. "What is going on here? To what extent are they monitoring social media? Exactly what authority to they claim to be doing this, and exactly how does this help the post office with its mission," he asks.
In a statement to Yahoo, the USPS confirmed the existence of ICOP, but only in broad terms about ensuring public trust in the mail, and protecting postal service employees and infrastructure. That doesn't cut it for critics like Scott. "It boggles the mind why the post office needs to be searching U.S. citizens' social media," he says. "I do not know what that has to do with their mission in delivering the mail."