A new report shows that the U.S. Postal Service has been secretly running a program that monitors American users’ social media posts and shares the information with different government agencies, according to a document acquired by Yahoo News.
According to the document, the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service has been engaged in a previously unknown surveillance effort, known as the Internet Covert Operations Program, to comb through social media sites for “inflammatory” posts, which are then reported to the government, Yahoo News reported Wednesday.
“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,” the document, marked as “law enforcement sensitive,” says. “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.”
The document includes several different screenshots of posts from Parler, Facebook, and other social media sites, and says that the surveillance program is monitoring these sites to identify any possible threats. (RELATED: Johnny Manziel Says Social Media Can Be A Dangerous Place)
“iCOP analysts are currently monitoring these social media channels for any potential threats stemming from the scheduled protests and will disseminate intelligence updates as needed.”
USPIS did not respond to questions from Yahoo about the surveillance program but provided a general statement about its responsibilities and authority.
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is the primary law enforcement, crime prevention, and security arm of the U.S. Postal Service,” the statement said, according to Yahoo. “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,” the statement continued. “In order to preserve operational effectiveness, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service does not discuss its protocols, investigative methods, or tools.”
In a tweet about the Postal Service’s program, Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz wrote, “Finally, an answer to the question: “Is there any federal agency that’s not spying on Americans?”
Finally, an answer to the question: “Is there any federal agency that’s not spying on Americans?” https://t.co/gA6KoguD4N
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) April 21, 2021
Rachel Levinson-Waldman, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s liberty and national security program, said that the Postal Service may not have the legal authority to carry out surveillance of social media activity, according to Yahoo News. “If the individuals they’re monitoring are carrying out or planning criminal activity, that should be the purview of the FBI,” said Levinson-Waldman. “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.”
“It’s a mystery,” University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone told Yahoo News. “I don’t understand why the government would go to the Postal Service for examining the internet for security issues.” (RELATED: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema Lights Up The Internet After Sharing Photo Featuring ‘F*ck Off’ Ring)