According to a government document obtained by Yahoo News, the U.S. Postal Service has been secretly monitoring the social media posts of American citizens.
The covert operation, conspicuously known as the Internet Covert Operations Program (or iCOP), has been conducted by the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service. Normally, USPIS is responsible for protecting the functions of USPS as well as its employees. Branching out into online surveillance is both unexpected and surprising to many experts.
“It’s a mystery,” University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone told Yahoo. “I don’t understand why the government would go to the Postal Service for examining the internet for security issues.”
Likewise, Rachel Levinson-Waldman, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s liberty and national security program, told Yahoo: “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.”
The program consists of a team of analysts who surveil social media sites and flag any “inflammatory” posts, sharing them across government agencies.
In March, these analysts specifically focused on posts related to an event that was scheduled for March 20 in cities across the globe known as World Wide Rally for Freedom and Democracy. The event’s aim was to protest various issues considered by many to be antithetical to freedom and human flourishing, such as lockdowns and 5G networks.
On March 16, USPIS distributed a “Situational Awareness Bulletin” throughout the Department of Homeland Security, alerting readers to “inflammatory or violent” messages regarding the World Wide Rally. The document provided evidence of violent comments, with the disclaimer, “No intelligence is available to suggest the legitimacy of these threats. iCOP analysts will continue to monitor postings and provide direct intelligence reports to specific Areas of Responsibility for any identified posts discussing planned attacks or violent actions.”
Both Levinson-Waldman and Stone told Yahoo that this type of activity is outside of the USPS’s jurisdiction. “…you’ve got the FBI, Homeland Security and so on,” said Stone, “so I don’t know why the post office is doing this.”
Harmeet Dhillon, a constitutional lawyer who launched the Center for American Liberty, told The Federalist that the government’s increased activity in online surveillance is “deeply concerning.”
The U.S. Postal Service provided the following general statement in lieu of answering any specific questions from Yahoo:
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.
The Internet Covert Operations Program is a function within the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which assesses threats to Postal Service employees and its infrastructure by monitoring publicly available open source information.
Additionally, the Inspection Service collaborates with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to proactively identify and assess potential threats to the Postal Service, its employees and customers, and its overall mail processing and transportation network. In order to preserve operational effectiveness, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service does not discuss its protocols, investigative methods, or tools.
Yahoo’s breaking news article was the first time this information was made public.
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