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Report: Feds, police are spying on the mail of thousands of Americans

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Law enforcement has requested thousands of pieces of letters and packages every year for the past decade from the U.S. Postal Service without a court order. According to a report released on Monday, June 24, the Postal Service has mostly fulfilled the requests.

Data from 2015 through 2023 showed that federal agencies and state and local police made more than 60,000 requests to the Postal Service for information from Americans’ envelopes and packages. The Postal Service reportedly approved 97% of those requests.

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The practice of monitoring mail goes back to 1879, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a Fourth Amendment case that it was legal but required a warrant to be obtained in order to open a sealed letter. The Mail Covers Program has been used to track down suspects, find fugitives or compile evidence — as long as all the details obtained came from the outside of the package or envelope.

The Postal Inspection Service has previously been reluctant to release the full scope of activity within the program out of fears that it could “alert criminals” to the practice and jeopardize the program’s effectiveness.

For more than a year, a bipartisan group of senators has been demanding to know more about the surveillance program. In a June 2023 letter, they shared concerns over the spying on U.S. citizens and accused postal officials of keeping customers in the dark about the fact that they have been the subject of monitoring.

The lawmakers also wrote that sensitive information is still on the outside of the mail, encompassing things like bills and political mail, which can reveal a person’s political beliefs and other sensitive information, like the church they attend. The lawmakers requested a federal judge to sign off on the requests by law enforcement before getting the green light.

Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale argued that Americans shouldn’t expect privacy when it comes to the outside of their mail, and contends that the spying is not widespread.

Barksdale said the Postal Service receives approximately 6,700 requests per year from law enforcement and the practice is only allowed for national security purposes and to help police in criminal investigations.

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[NEWMAN]

ALRIGHT, YOU GO AHEAD, YOU KEEP IT SECRET.  BUT YOU REMEMBER THIS. WHEN YOU CONTROL THE MAIL, YOU CONTROL INFORMATION!

[LAUREN TAYLOR]

CONTROL OF THE MAIL. CONTROL OF INFORMATION. IT’S NO LONGER A JOKE.

LAW ENFORCEMENT IS SPYING ON THOUSANDS OF AMERICANS MAIL AND IN MOST CASES THE U.S. POSTAL SERVICE IS FACILITATING IT, ACCORDING TO REVELATIONS FROM A NEW WASHINGTON POST ANALYSIS.

DATA FROM 20-15 THROUGH 2023 SHOWS FEDERAL AGENCIES AND STATE AND LOCAL POLICE MADE MORE THAN 60,000 REQUESTS ASKING THE USPS TO PROVIDE INFORMATION FROM AMERICANS’ ENVELOPES AND PACKAGES. . 

THE USPS APPROVING 97 PERCENT OF THOSE ASKS. WITH NO COURT ORDER REQUIRED.

THE PRACTICE OF MONITORING MAIL COVERS HAS BEEN LEGAL SINCE 1879.

THE SO-CALLED ‘MAIL COVERS PROGRAM’ IS USED TO TRACK DOWN SUSPECTS, FIND FUGITIVES, OR COMPILE EVIDENCE– AS LONG AS ALL THE DETAILS RETRIEVED COME FROM LOOKING AT THE OUTSIDE OF THE PACKAGE. 

TO PEAK INSIDE, LAW ENFORCEMENT NEEDS TO GET A WARRANT. 

THE POSTAL INSPECTION SERVICE HAS PREVIOUSLY BEEN RELUCTANT TO RELEASE THE FULL SCOPE OF ACTIVITY– FEARING IT COULD “ALERT CRIMINALS” TO THE PROGRAM.

FOR MORE THAN A YEAR, A BIPARTISAN GROUP OF SENATORS HAS BEEN DEMANDING TO KNOW MORE– WRITING A LETTER IN 2023 SHARING CONCERNS OVER SECRET SPYING ON AMERICAN CITIZENS, ACCUSING POSTAL OFFICIALS OF KEEPING CUSTOMERS IN THE DARK ABOUT THE FACT THEY HAVE BEEN SUBJECT TO MONITORING.

THE LAWMAKERS SAY SENSITIVE INFORMATION IS STILL ON THE OUTSIDE OF MAIL–

FROM BILLS TO POLITICAL BELIEFS AND CHURCHES SOMEONE ATTENDS. THEY WANT THE USPS TO GET A FEDERAL JUDGE’S OK BEFORE APPROVING SURVEILLANCE REQUESTS.

THE CHIEF POSTAL INSPECTOR SAYS AMERICANS SHOULDN’T EXPECT PRIVACY WHEN IT COMES TO THE OUTSIDE OF THEIR MAIL. HE ARGUES THE SPYING ISN’T WIDESPREAD, SAYING THE USPS GETS 6700 REQUESTS A YEAR FROM LAW ENFORCEMENT AND THAT IT’S ALLOWED ONLY IN THE INTEREST OF NATIONAL SECURITY AND TO HELP IN CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS.

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