The NSA and America's other secret police continue their war on Americans with revelations this week that the U.S. Postal Service photographs the front and back of all mail sent throughout the U.S.
The program is ostensibly for "sorting purposes" but the revelations are another example of an obscure surveillance program run by law enforcement. In this case the secret agency is the Postal Inspection Service, which in turns feeds the data to the National Security Agency, the agency who collects records from all spying program in the country.
For regular law enforcement who don't have access to all the NSA data, the program lets state or federal law enforcement agencies request what’s called a "mail cover" which gives them access to detailed records of address information contained on the cover of envelopes and packages sent or received.
The program is not limited by warrants or a requirement that a person be targeted in a criminal investigation. Much like programs run by Google, Facebook, Comcast and AT&T a simple request on official letterhead is enough to get a list of every package coming or going from your residence.
Our courts, who increasingly take a dim view of privacy, have ruled that because a mail cover involves reading only information on the outside of the envelope it is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The courts obviously have not considered the scenario where mail is fed through an automated, digital scanning machine that then builds a detailed database of every letter coming or going from every address in the country. Perhaps the implications of this dragnet are beyond their level of technical education.
"If your mail’s gonna be monitored—every single thing you send and receive—I would certainly feel that my privacy has been violated," Steven R. Morrison, an assistant professor of law at the University of North Dakota said in a statement.
An internal audit found that in 2013 the Postal Service approved nearly 50,000 requests through a process with "insufficient controls" to prevent abuse.
Shockingly the system apparently also handle requests for non-law enforcement agencies, accepting over 80% of requests despite the organizations or individuals having no law enforcement affiliation.
The Postal Service runs another shadowy initiative called the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking Program, which it says has been used only in a handful of cases where toxic or contaminated mail was found in the system. It is not clear the full scope or rationale for the program.
The new revelations show just how pervasive spying on U.S. citizens has become. It is increasingly apparent that every single movement, transaction, comment or email is being logged, tracked and traced by our government.
Thus far, somewhat predictably, few elected officials have stood up against this most un-American behavior. One begins to wonder, if the NSA has elaborate records on everyone in the country, whether our elected officials are simply unable to for fear of retribution.