Many people have changed their relationship to the internet as a result of the revelations of NSA collection of U.S. citizen data by Edward Snowden. Some have even come under scrutiny for innocent Google searches or PayPal transactions, which has cast unwarranted suspicion on them. Most of these people believe the mail system is safer and less subject to government spying than the internet.
But that is apparently a false sense of security. “In processing your mail, the Post Office photographs the front of every piece of mail they handle. In the name of ensuring accurate delivery, the USPS software uses photos to create a bar-code that is placed on your mail. The bar-code is then used to sort the mail. The photos are stored for up to a month and are made available to government agencies who request them.”
Some postal customer’s mail is being tracked by law enforcement. The system called “Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program,” photographs every piece of paper mail processed by the USPS. That’s 160 billion photographs a year! How long the photos are kept is a mystery.
Together with another low-tech tracking system known as “mail covers,” the postal system subjects paper mail to the same kind of scrutiny that the National Security Agency has gives to telephone calls and e-mails.
When law enforcement requests, the USPS provides them with photos of outside of target mail pieces. They have to have a search warrant to look inside. Tens of thousands of pieces of mail are scrutinized each year just from the “mail cover” program itself. The sweeping program collects the “meta-data” from mail just like the NSA collects meta-data from phone calls. The programs were highly secret until a recent case when the USPS help track ricin-laced letters sent to President Obama and NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Previously, the system was used when there was suspicion of a crime, but not any more. Now it appears that the postal system is in the practice of photographing all mail so that they can use that information after the fact in a criminal investigation.
“It’s a treasure trove of information,” said James J. Wedick, a former F.B.I. agent who used mail covers in a number of investigations. “Looking at just the outside of letters and other mail, I can see who you bank with, who you communicate with — all kinds of useful information that gives investigators leads that they can then follow up on with a subpoena.”
The postal system and law enforcement defend the two secret programs on the basis that it is necessary to fight crime and terrorism. Judges have also ruled that there is no expectation of privacy concerning the outside information on mail pieces.
In the name of security, western governments have taken a greater interest in surveillance of their own citizens.
The United States is in the process of repudiating “every principle of its Constitution as a Protestant and republican government…” Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5 page 451