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U.S. Postal Snoop Surge

Monday November 10th, 2014   •   Posted by K. Lloyd Billingsley at 5:13am PST   •  

As we have noted, the United States Postal Service (USPS) is a perennial loser, always billions in the red, with taxpayers on the hook. On the other hand, whatever the losses, the USPS finds a way to give postal bosses a pay hike. As a visit to any post office will confirm, the regular service is slow. But as Ron Nixon notes in the New York Times, the USPS is an eager beaver when it comes to snooping on Americans.

usps-logo_200Last year the USPS approved 50,000 requests to monitor the use of mail in criminal and security investigations, which these days can mean just about anything, such as being less than worshipful of the government. As Nixon notes, the surveillance program is “more extensive than previously disclosed and that oversight protecting Americans from potential abuses is lax.”

Theodore Simon of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers told the Times, “It appears that there has been widespread disregard of the few protections that were supposed to be in place.” The Times found that on Freedom of Information Act requests, the USPS lowballs the numbers. The agency also uses Mail Imaging, a program that photographs the exterior of every piece of mail. This is supposedly for processing, but as Nixon explains, “it is also used as a surveillance system that allows law enforcement agencies to request stored images of mail sent to and received by people they are investigating.”

Postal bosses say not to worry, but as this Bay Area editorial says, “the truth is that we have no way of knowing. The tracking doesn’t have to be reported to anyone, which makes this program ripe for abuse.” Therefore, “Congress needs to act now.” Good luck with that, because Congress has been unable to implement such simple reforms as the end of Saturday delivery. This confirms that, like other federal operations, the USPS is essentially unreformable.

If legislators ever want to get serious, they should lift the USPS monopoly on first-class mail. That will improve efficiency, promote accountability, and help protect taxpayers against excessive government snooping.

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November 2014