Months after Judicial Watch sued the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) for information about a secret program that tracks and collects Americans’ social media posts, more of the agency’s controversial spy mechanisms are being exposed. The newly uncovered tools are sophisticated hacking devices that can breach cell phones and the USPS’s law enforcement arm, U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), has utilized them hundreds of times in the last few years, according to a news story that cites USPIS data buried in a lengthy agency report. The questionable surveillance schemes appear to indicate that the government is weaponizing the nation’s postal service to improperly spy on the citizens who fund it.
The social media surveillance program was uncovered early last year by an online news outlet that revealed the USPS has been quietly tracking and collecting the social media posts of Americans, including notes about planned protests. It is known as Internet Covert Operations Program (ICOP). Analysts dig through social media sites searching for “inflammatory” postings, which are shared across government agencies. Civil liberties experts quoted in the story questioned the legal authority of the USPS to monitor social media activity and one asked a logical question: Why would the government depend on the postal service to examine the internet for security reasons? “If the individuals they’re monitoring are carrying out or planning criminal activity that should be the purview of the FBI,” said one civil liberties authority in the piece, adding “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.”