UNITED STATES – According to a recently uncovered document revealed by Yahoo News, the U.S. Postal Service has been running a clandestine operation through its law enforcement division that has been tracking and cataloging social media posts and comments from Americans related to protest activities deemed concerning.
While it is hardly surprising that social media activity is monitored by any number of law enforcement agencies, there are those that find it rather peculiar that the Postal Service is dedicating their resources to this effort.
“Vote by mail,” they said. https://t.co/lAsxWMDnkG
— Joel Pollak (@joelpollak) April 22, 2021
This surveillance effort that the U.S. Postal Service has been engaged in for some time is known as iCOP, or the Internet Covert Operations Program.
But this effort was never made public by the USPS, but was only learned of by way of a leaked government bulletin marked as “law enforcement sensitive” that was dated March 16th and specifically shared intelligence regarding something known as the “March 20th International Day of Protests”.
According to the leaked document, the USPS “law enforcement sensitive” bulletin noted the following concerns pertaining to this “March 20th International Day of Protests”:
“Analysts with the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP) monitored significant activity regarding planned protests occurring internationally and domestically on March 20, 2021.
“Locations and times have been identified for these protests, which are being distributed online across multiple social media platforms, to include right wing leaning parlor and telegram accounts.
Online inflammatory material has been identified, which suggests potential violence may occur; However, there is currently no intelligence to suggest specific threats.”
So apparently these planned protest activities that the Postal Service was concerned about were related to the propensity of anti-lockdown protests an apparently some that were related to stopping 5G.
Clearly, we are over a month past March 20th and there was no calamity stateside that managed to attract national attention regarding lockdown protests or protests related to 5G.
There was an anti-lockdown protest that reportedly occurred in London that day, consisting of several thousand people, which makes a degree of sense since the country has some extremely strict lockdown measures.
That aside, the fact that the U.S. Postal Service is taking it upon themselves to surveille American citizens’ social media activity has created some concern in civil liberty minded circles.
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University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone, who was an appointee by former President Barack Obama to review the NSA’s bulk data collection practices in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks, had the following to say about this USPS endeavor:
“It’s a mystery…I don’t understand why the government would go to the Postal Service for examining the internet for security issues.”
Rachel Levinson-Waldman, who serves as the deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s liberty national security program, pointed out that the investigative arm of the USPS is supposed to be predominantly focused on crimes related to the post office:
“This seems a little bizarre. 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.”
Levinson-Waldman also noted that there’s a level of ambiguity regarding the Postal Service’s legal authority to monitor this sort of social media activity that is clearly outside of the scope of what the Postal Service should be looking into:
“If the individuals they’re monitoring are carrying out or planning criminal activity, that should be the purview of the FBI.”
“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.”
Disturbing! Why do Presidents and my colleagues in congress tolerate these violations of the Constitution?
Also, and unfortunately, the USPS has been losing money for many years… so where do they find money to run this surveillance program?https://t.co/rmcKAsTRNK
— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) April 21, 2021
When the U.S. Postal Inspection Service was reached out for comment regarding this gathered intelligence pertaining to planned protest activities, all that was returned was a generalized mission statement:
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is the primary law enforcement, crime prevention, and security arm of the U.S. Postal Service.”
“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.”
Interestingly enough, through responding to inquiries related to this bizarre “law enforcement sensitive” bulletin from March, the generalized mission statement further contextualizes that the U.S. Postal Inspection Service is tasked with enforcing laws that protect the “mail system from illegal or dangerous use; and ensure public trust in the mail.”
As evidenced from the March 16th bulletin from the Postal Service, there was no articulated concerns pertaining to perceived threats against the post office, postal workers, concerns of illegal exploitation of postal services – merely gathered information over planned protests that never really came to fruition stateside.
University of Chicago law Professor Stone also added that, in his opinion, the Postal Service is likely not even suited to attempt to embark on these sorts of investigative efforts when compared to more advanced agencies that handle this regularly:
“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.”
“That part is puzzling. There are so many other federal agencies that could do this, I don’t understand why the post office would be doing it. There is no need for the post office to do it — you’ve got FBI, Homeland Security and so on, so I don’t know why the post office is doing this.”
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