You may have thought — after the outcry over Postmaster General Louis DeJoy‘s undermining of the efforts to conduct a good portion of the 2020 presidential election via mail-in ballots through the destruction of sorting machines and the removal of convenient mailboxes — that the major controversies involving the United States Postal Service were well behind us now.
If only it were so!
A new report by Yahoo News reveals an even more disturbing accusation against the USPS: that the law enforcement division of the federally-run mail delivery system “has been quietly running a program that tracks and collects Americans’ social media posts, including those about planned protests,” according to a document obtained by the online news outlet.
Yes, you heard that right, federal agents from the U.S. Postal Service are scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms looking at what you posted and determining whether it fits their interpretation of what would be considered “inflammatory.”
What’s even worse is the fact that they then share their findings with other government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security.
For all the talk on right-wing media about the “Deep State” and government overreach, this is the first time since Edward Snowden revealed the existence of a massive National Security Agency operation to capture the electronic communications of American citizens that such an invasive plot that threatens our First Amendment rights to free speech has been shown to exist.
The USPS surveillance effort is known as iCOP, which stands for Internet Covert Operations Program, and it involves analysts scrolling through social media sites to look for what the document describes as “inflammatory” postings.
According to Yahoo News:
“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,” says the March 16 government bulletin, marked as “law enforcement sensitive” and distributed through the Department of Homeland Security’s fusion centers. “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 goes on to include screenshots of posts about the planned protests from Facebook, Parler, Telegram, and other social media sites, including the posts of at least one member of the Proud Boys.
“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,” the bulletin states.
While one may have wished that such a program would have helped prevent the horrifying invasion of the Capitol Building by a motley crew of pro-Trump terrorists on January 6th, the surreptitious surveillance by Post Office officials seems to have played little part in assisting Capitol Police from preventing an attack that any casual peruser of social media could have predicted.
Indeed, the very reasoning behind the iCOP program is perplexing.
University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone, who reviewed the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection for President Obama in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks questioned the motivations for the surveillance.
“It’s a mystery,” said Stone. “I don’t understand why the government would go to the Postal Service for examining the internet for security issues.”
Rachel Levinson-Waldman, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s liberty and national security program, agreed with Stone’s assessment.
“This seems a little bizarre,” she mused. “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.”
“If the individuals they’re monitoring are carrying out or planning criminal activity, that should be the purview of the FBI,” Levinson-Waldman said. “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.”
“I just don’t think the Postal Service has the degree of sophistication that you would want if you were dealing with national security issues of this sort,” Professor Stone of the University of Chicago said.
“That part is puzzling,” he added. “There are so many other federal agencies that could do this, I don’t understand why the post office would be doing it. There is no need for the post office to do it — you’ve got FBI, Homeland Security and so on, so I don’t know why the post office is doing this.”
Perhaps this news wouldn’t seem quite so disturbing if someone other than Louis DeJoy, Donald Trump’s handpicked nominee for Postmaster General, weren’t still running the show at the U.S. Postal Service.
Given his disastrous interference in the smooth functioning of the postal service and his suspected leaning toward the eventual privatization of the constitutionally-mandated public mail delivery service, DeJoy does not inspire a lot of trust among suspicious progressives.
Perhaps if he kept the post office out of our social media accounts and concentrated on getting mail and other packages delivered on a timely and efficient basis with adequate funding, the world would be a better place.
Almost as good as if he resigned and allowed President Biden to appoint a competent and trustworthy successor as Postmaster General.
Original reporting by Jana Winter at Yahoo News.
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Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.