US Postal Service Is Surveilling Social Media Services Because It Apparently Has Plenty Of Time And Money To Waste

from the to-inquire-about-this-program,-please-send-SASE-to-iCOP dept

The United States Postal Service is still in the spying business. The USPS has been scanning pretty much every piece of mail that runs through its system, creating a massive database of metadata that serves whatever purpose the USPS imagines it does. "National security" or whatever the fuck.

When not helping the DEA find cash and the occasional drug shipment, the USPS is also apparently keeping tabs on social media users. This includes social media services with smaller, but perhaps more concerning, user bases. The name of the game is still "national security," but it's unclear why the Postal Service -- which has a hard enough time divvying up its limited resources -- is engaged in this sort of surveillance.

A two-page report [PDF] from the USPS's "iCOP" (Internet Covert Operations Program) [again, why is this actually a thing?] -- first reported by Yahoo News -- details the internet sleuthery of US Postal Service Inspectors.

The law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service has been quietly running a program that tracks and collects Americans’ social media posts, including those about planned protests, according to a document obtained by Yahoo News.

The details of the surveillance effort, known as iCOP, or Internet Covert Operations Program, have not previously been made public. The work involves having analysts trawl through social media sites to look for what the document describes as “inflammatory” postings and then sharing that information across government agencies.

Again, this effort seems like -- at best -- a redundancy. Nearly every law enforcement agency has its own social media monitoring program. The DHS and its (mostly useless) Fusion Centers routinely compile information on social media posts. The FBI pretty much considers itself a national security agency at this point and has its own surveillance programs. And plenty of freelancers compile open source info from public posts in their spare investigative time.

But the USPS is in the mix too. And it seems to be treading very close to the First Amendment line.

“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,” says the March 16 government bulletin, marked as “law enforcement sensitive” and distributed through the Department of Homeland Security’s fusion centers. “Locations and times have been identified for these protests, which are being distributed online across multiple social media platforms, to include right-wing leaning Parler and Telegram accounts.”

Planned protests are what's known as free speech round these parts, iCOPs. While there's always a chance someone might stumble across a few true threats, casting a net over the… um… 'Net to trawl for incriminating shitposts seems like an extremely questionable use of the government's time.

The two-pager points out that the most worrying stuff inspectors came across emanated from Parler. But even at its most concerning, the iCOP effort came up with nothing but some wasted tax dollars and a few incursions into inalienable rights territory.

“No intelligence is available to suggest the legitimacy of these threats,” it adds.

The civil liberties experts contacted by Yahoo for comment were more baffled than aghast, although there was certainly some of the latter because it's concerning when you can't think of a single good reason the USPS should be surveilling social media outlets. And this seems to have nothing to do with the US Postal Inspectors' purview, which should only cover criminal acts involving the mail system. Just because everyone's texting and IMing instead of sending letters and postcards doesn't mean the USPS should be allowed to start surveilling communications methods that no longer involve postage stamps.

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Filed Under: post office, social media, surveillance, usps


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2021 @ 10:58am

    The law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service

    Why does every organization in the US feel insecure unless it has its own cops?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2021 @ 11:46am

    Possibly has something to do with the fact that Congress and the Executive have done nothing but fuck the USPS for the last 40 years or whatever.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2021 @ 12:03pm

    Re:

    Probably because police are at the state level and ability to refuse unfunded mandates. So an attempt at decentralizing power for matters better dealt with at national lead to a shitload of redundancy. Even aside from specialized areas of judgement If they pooled all federal into just one national police force there would be constant bickering over their mandate "not receiving enough/others too much".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2021 @ 12:06pm

    Re:

    The biggest fuck that put the nail in the coffin was the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act which basically made them go into billions of $$$ in debt.

    That and the fucker who is Postmaster General right now.

    So it makes me wonder where they can find the money to go on snipe hunts such as monitoring social media.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    James Burkhardt (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 12:10pm

    Re:

    Postal inspectors predate most of what we think of as federal law enforcement. They also predate USPS being a semi-private org. they were created in a time when we created small dedicated task forces to handle specific crime, rather than larger sweeping agencies handling all crime in a jurisdiction. The Postal inspectors were created to investigate mail theft and mail fraud since those crimes tended to big too big in operational scope for any locals to address, and the USPS was a federal agency. At the time they were created, they had a clear niche no other agency filled. Now they continue to exist, because no agency will fill that role.

    A big reason for that is they have typically stayed on the boring side of the law enforcement descriptor (paper trails, leg work). There is no glory, no headlines. You aren't making a populist political career of the back of mail fraud investigations. The FBI isn't allocating resources to tracking down the guy who busted open the apartment complex mail box. They have terrorists to catch! You need a small, focused team for this. one that isn't looking for headlines.

    So I support their existence. But....its clear someone isn't happy with the boring work. And that its definitely a problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    James Burkhardt (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 12:14pm

    Re: Re:

    ITs biggest fuck you wasn't the pension issue. it was barring the post office from offering new services or reviving older services like postal banking. The Post office wanted to expand its services and had a plan to be profitable again by doing so. The PAEA foreclosed revenue generation opportunities while increasing financial liability. Its a spit-roast of shit policy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    ECA (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 12:29pm

    ITS CHEAPER

    And lets the USPS keep its employees.

    Ya think?
    And the other agencies will Throw in a few bucks to cover it..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Michael Gantz (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 1:22pm

    Things can't possibly get more comical than this.

    If the USPS was perfect at it's actual job, you know, delivering mail, this story would be contentious enough. But when you add in the fact that the USPS can't actually deliver mail correctly it makes me wonder why this money isn't getting spent on improving service.

    Repeated calls to our local post master has resulted in the following: Mail randomly getting delivered within a half mile of it's actual destination. The USPS better hope its future never comes down to a thumbs up/down vote on my behalf.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2021 @ 1:42pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    geeez-- USPS is a grossly inefficient and abusive MONOPOLY.

    Why do ya think everybody hates monopolies ?

    (hint: high prices & poor services/products)

    USPS desperately clings to its purely artificial government monopoly on 1st Class Mail because that's the most profitable sector of the delivery business ... and FEDEX/UPS/etc would competitively destroy USPS if they were legally permitted to handle 1st Class Mail.

    US Constitution permits the Federal government to operate a postal service but does not require it ... and absolutely does not grant any monopoly privileges whatsoever to any government postal service.

    USPS is an 18th Century anachronism that should be totally abolished.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    James Burkhardt (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 2:55pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    [citation needed]

    Neither Fed Ex or UPS have claimed they could compete on letter mail. They have expressly stated they could not handle letter mail cheaper or with the same level of service as the USPS. as someone worked in a fedex sorting center! Fed ex and UPS equipment cannot physically handle letter mail. It’s deigned for package handling. Nor can they handle the volume USPS sees. They will not want to invest in completely redesigning how they sort packages to support mail.

    Moreover, they rely on the USPS to deliver packages in most areas. UPS and Fed Ex can not deliver profitably in most rural areas. USPS has a ‘monopoly’ because much of their service isn’t commercially viable for private entities.

    The USPS should not be a commercial service and isn’t a competitor to commercial package companies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2021 @ 3:25pm

    Re: ITS CHEAPER

    Nonsense!

    Monopolies ain't no way cheaper and more efficient than competitive entities.

    USPS had $10Billion in losses last year and routinely operates with huge losses every year. It also has over $120Billion in debt, with little prospect of ever paying it back.

    USPS survives only because of Federal subsidies and its illegal monopoly status.

    Note that USPS pays no taxes. That puts competitors at a huge disadvantage, but they still out-compete USPS where legally permitted.

    And all private U.S. companies are legally required to fund any pension promises/plans they make to their employees.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Baron von Robber, 29 Apr 2021 @ 3:48pm

    Re: Re: ITS CHEAPER

    Uh, you don't have Fed Ex, UPS, DHS and others in your state?

    USPS survives because it's in The Constitution as a mandate.

    Damn, don't they give you a basic lesson in US History in Russia?!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Baron von Robber, 29 Apr 2021 @ 4:50pm

    Re: Things can't possibly get more comical than this.

    Have they put back in the mail sorting machines the pugs took out?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    Michael Gantz (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 6:21pm

    Re: Things can't possibly get more comical than this.

    Having visited the local post office I'm pretty sure there haven't been any major changes there in the past 50 years, or more.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2021 @ 7:06pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Nonsense.
    The private sector can duplicate any service that USPS provides.

    Where do you think USPS buys its equipment from?
    Where do you think USPS hires its workers from?
    Have you noticed Amazon's vast scale of daily operations?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2021 @ 7:12pm

    Re: Re: Re: ITS CHEAPER

    Wrong.
    Article I, Section 8 states only that: "The Congress shall have power... To establish post offices and post roads"

    There is no mandate or requirement to actually establish and eternally operate a Federal postal system -- it is merely an option for any specific Congress to choose or not choose.

    Constitution also grants Congress power to declare War, but does not 'require' that it ever do so.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 8:14pm

    Well the FBI can't find bad things being planned in the open online, so someone needed to take up the slack.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    R.H. (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 10:38pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Try sending something letter-sized via either UPS or FedEx. It'll cost at least $10 compared to the $0.50 that the USPS charges. That's a pretty big difference.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    BernardoVerda (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 11:16pm

    Re: Re: Things can't possibly get more comical than this.

    No. They made sure to break and destroy many essential, and difficult to replace, parts in the process of "dismantling" them. They weren't dismantled, they were scrapped (often directly to dumpster boxes) -- "tear that out" and "rip it apart" weren't just metaphorical expressions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    PaulT (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 11:31pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Meanwhile, in the real world, Fedex/USP/DHL/etc all use USPS for last mile delivery of most of their services in rural areas because it's not profitable for them to offer it themselves. They are supporting private carriers, even propping up their business where they would otherwise refuse to offer service if they couldn't be effectively subsidised by the government.

    I know that the right-wing echo chambers you clearly get your information from are deliberately misleading on this, but don't try peddling fiction to those of us who look at facts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    nasch (profile), 30 Apr 2021 @ 8:33am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Government services do tend to be monopolies. We may not love them, but most of us recognize the necessity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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