USPS

The USPS' Semi-Secret Internet Surveillance Apparatus

The agency best known for delivering mail has a side hustle in online snooping.

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Pop quiz: Which federal agency runs a social media surveillance unit known as the Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP)?

If you guessed the FBI, the CIA, or the Department of Homeland Security—sorry. This one belongs to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). And through it, postal inspectors have been monitoring social media platforms about U.S. protests, using tools that include a facial recognition database.

That the agency best known for delivering mail has a side hustle in online snooping took a lot of people by surprise when it was reported in April by Yahoo! News, which obtained a March 16 "Situational Awareness Bulletin" about iCOP operations. The bulletin mentioned that U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) agents monitoring Facebook, Parler, Twitter, and Telegram had noticed "significant activity regarding planned protests occurring internationally and domestically" as part of a rally for freedom and democracy.

"The iCOP program protects the Postal Service and the public by facilitating the identification, disruption, and dismantling of individuals and organizations that use the mail or USPS online tools to facilitate black market Internet trade or other illegal activities," the USPIS 2019 annual report explains. "Analysts in iCOP utilize USPS systems and tools to provide open source intelligence and cryptocurrency blockchain analysis in support of all Inspection Service investigations." Cases cover "narcotics, mail theft, revenue fraud, homicide, dangerous mail, and more."

As part of iCOP, USPIS agents "assume fake identities online, use sophisticated intelligence tools and employ facial recognition software," Yahoo!'s Jana Winter reported this year.  These tools include Clearview AI's facial recognition database, which contains more than 3 billion images scraped from social media and other public websites, and Zignal Labs' real-time keyword search software.

Information from iCOP analysts was distributed through Homeland Security fusion centers to a wide array of law enforcement units and government authorities, as well as stored for future access. "The retention and dissemination of these reports could allow federal agencies to receive information they are not allowed by statute to collect themselves," Winter suggested.

Although the USPS has disclosed the program's existence in its annual reporting, this spring's revelations caused an uproar from some congressional Republicans, who expressed concern about iCOP's professed monitoring of  "right-wing leaning Parler and Telegram accounts." The program "raises serious questions about the federal government's ongoing surveillance of, and encroachment upon, Americans' private lives and discourse," wrote 30 GOP members of Congress in an April 22 letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

"The type of amorphous, broad mandate under which iCOP is allegedly operating is particularly troubling because it is unclear why the USPS, of all government agencies and the only one devoted to the delivery of Americans' mail, is taking on the role of intelligence collection," the letter continued. "The United States is not lacking in its availability of intelligence agencies, and it should be left to those professionals to engage in this sort of behavior, if it is even necessary at all."

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R–Fla.) has introduced a bill—co-sponsored by nine Republicans—to prohibit USPIS funds from being used for the iCOP program.

On April 28, Chief Postal Inspector Gary R. Barksdale testified about the program before members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. He said it launched in 2017 to help detect mailed opioids and firearms but had morphed in May or June 2020 to monitoring the internet for information about potential threats to USPS leaders, staff, or facilities. "No audits of iCOP have occurred to date, but USPS is looking at governance issues," said a committee press release about the briefing.

Not everyone was satisfied by the answers Barksdale offered. He "was unprepared to answer our questions to the point of incompetence," Rep. Nancy Mace (R–S.C.) wrote in the Washington Examiner after the briefing. "Barksdale couldn't tell us…how much taxpayers were paying to run it, or even what legal authority the post office had to spy on the public's social media activities."

NEXT: Brickbat: Never Mind

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  1. “Barksdale couldn’t tell us…how much taxpayers were paying to run it, or even what legal authority the post office had to spy on the public’s social media activities.”

    Or just, y’know, wouldn’t.

    1. Or too polite to say, FYTW.

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    2. taxpayers dont fund the post office. idiot politicians dont know this and the idiots who vote them in dont either.

      1. Alas, they require massive infusions of public money to stay open, so the public does fund much of their operation.

        Look into the past and you can see they have needed subsidies for quite a while, so you should drop the tax payers do not pay silliness because it is not correct.

        1. They only required those funds after being required to pre-fund pensions for workers who haven’t been born, yet. Repeal that ridiculous requirement (which no other part of government has been mandated to do and no private company would even attempt) and they’ll self fund just fine.

    3. In other words, the usps played a major role in mail in ballot fraud in 2020.

  2. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R–Fla.) has introduced a bill—co-sponsored by nine Republicans—to prohibit USPIS funds from being used for the iCOP program.

    Which does nothing about the similar programs run by the Department of Agriculture, the IRS, the Forestry Service, the Agency for International Development, the Ex-Im Bank and a hundred other government agencies – and you know goddamn well they’ve all got one.

    1. The real scandal is that any comparison of the results of all these duplicative programs is unknown. How many of these agencies compare notes? How many snoop on each other and compare those notes? That would be more interesting than the original layer one snooping.

      1. Finally, my paycheck is $ 8,500? A working 10 hours per week online. My brother’s friend had an average of 12K for several months, he work about 22 hours a week. I can not believe how easy it is, once I try to do so. This is what I do…..Earn Profit.

    2. Defund the USPS!
      They could call it the Spooner Act.

      1. hey asshole the usps is funded by the sale of postage not cretins like you.

        1. Hey bigger asshole. Taxpayers such as myself and Vulgar (a set not likely to include yourself) just gifted the USPS ten billion dollars.

        2. And also government loans and grants. This is like saying that the DMV is funded by driver license renewal fees. It does a disservice to your tract to spew disingenuous factoids.

  3. Thank you so much for this share..

  4. Come on fellows, this is nothing but a little union featherbedding. The union needs a bit more dues revenue to give to the democrats, so they make up a few totally unnecessary job positions and give them to deserving union boss relatives. Nothing to see here, move along. Most likely the new “investigators” are just surfing for a little porn on the taxpayer dime.

    1. The union can provide both money AND personal data to use as leverage against opponents–win, win!

  5. The type of amorphous, broad mandate under which iCOP is allegedly operating is particularly troubling because it is unclear why the USPS, of all government agencies and the only one devoted to the delivery of Americans’ mail, is taking on the role of intelligence collection

    What the cost of a stamp really goes for.

  6. Meanwhile, the only thing I get through the USPS is advertising.

    Before we get to the question of why they’re doing surveillance, can someone explain why we’re paying them to deliver mail?

    1. I guess you’re not a real American in fly over country who doesn’t have internet access and relies on the post office for your medicines.

      1. ^thinks there are no drug stores in the midwest^

        1. We don’t even have Kinkos!

          1. How about Blockbuster?

      2. Not funny Jacob.

      3. Why is the post office serving major cities?

        Why do so many government agencies insist on using the USPS instead of a private carrier?

        Can private carriers deliver letters to the P.O. Box addresses of government agencies?

        1. Because the Constitution mandates it.

      4. Maybe climb out of your perv uncle’s basement, stop getting your ass fucked every day, and realize there is life outside of your blue state burned out city.

    2. are you related to sargent shultz? you cannot be this stupid. the postal service isnt paid by anyone but postal customers who choose to use them.

      1. Clown-show dipshit, the Feds just shoveled $10,000,000,000 in taxpayer money into the USPS dumpster fire last December. So shut the fuck up Cliff Claven.

      2. Postal customers can’t choose anyone else for letter mail. If the U.S.P.S. is really self-funding, then let’s see how far they can get without a legally-enforced monopoly on letter mail carrying.

      3. Even Freddy the jerk knows more than you!!
        Why repeat false info over and over???

  7. Fuck the USPS!

    1. what, did they fire your ass?

  8. “Welcome to the spy game, USPS!”
    –New Capitol Police Spy Offices, probably.

    1. I wonder – how many investigations have been blown because multiple agencies were involved without each other knowing about it?

      1. Cue the (old) jokes about everyone at the (KKK,SDS,Weathermen) meetings being informants from different agencies.

        1. Probably not a joke.

      2. How many investigations are one group of government agents udercover infiltrating another group of undercover agents?

        We are all Thursday.

  9. if their service is being used for illegal activity then they should investigate it. It should be as transparent and small as possible. They don’t need some crazy bureaucracy. Also it shouldn’t be illegal to send drugs through the mail.

    1. Shut the fuck up you psychotic pile of human garbage.

      1. Thank you!

        When anti American traitor bigots like you don’t even address my post and just insult me it makes me know I’m doing something right.

        Don’t forget to put your seatbelt on

        1. Don’t forget to put your seatbelt on

          And your mask.

          1. Why would I wear a mask when I don’t have to now?

    2. if their service is being used for illegal activity then they should investigate it. It should be as transparent and small as possible.

      The government should be stricter about the 4th Amendment than anyone in private sector. Meaning – get a warrant from a court based on probable cause. That could actually be a competitive advantage for a communications delivery service. A service that protects privacy – via the US Constitution not a dead slogan by Google to ‘do no evil’. Something that actually puts pressure on private sector to keep info private.

      But it does appear that ‘libertarians’ hate gummint so much that we are willing to privatize away the 4th amendment. From the quote in this article – Barksdale couldn’t tell us…how much taxpayers were paying to run it, or even what legal authority the post office had to spy on the public’s social media activities.

      Useful questions. But of course once the PO gets privatized its all moot since Google/Facebook/etc have unlimited authority to spy on ‘the publics’ social media activty.

      1. the postal inspection service is a well known and vital part of the organization. learn something before posting.

    3. I can’t read a post of yours in a voice other than that of Yosemite Sam.

      1. That’s for KAR

      2. Why Yosemite Sam?

    4. what do you think the postal INSPECTION service is for clown?

  10. If you guessed the FBI, the CIA, or the Department of Homeland Security—sorry. This one belongs to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). And through it, postal inspectors have been monitoring social media platforms about U.S. protests, using tools that include a facial recognition database.

    If it stops one insurrection, it’s worth it.

    1. iCop may track online purchases of fire extinguishers and Legos.

      1. Don’t order a wood chipper

    2. If you’re not doing anything wrong…

  11. He said it launched in 2017

    Right on the heels of a deplorable uprising.

    1. Indeed, the article says the program broke bad in May of 2020. This is DeJoy’s mess.

  12. dismantling of individuals

    For organ harvesting?

    1. scarecrows

  13. if it was anyone but the PO i’d be worried. those guys could fuck up a train wreck. hey wait…

  14. And Reason’s

    https://twitter.com/robbystarbuck/status/1414702979551277064?s=19

    In all the protest videos from Cuba they shout for liberty, freedom and an end to the communist regime. They don’t say a word about COVID despite the lies coming out of Biden’s administration. [Video]

  15. If they snoop on people with the same efficiency that they deliver mail, no one has anything to worry about. They are probably using MySpace and AOL accounts to do it.

    1. Indeed. How right you are.

  16. The USPS can’t even deliver mail properly.
    Before and after the first of the year, their package delivery was so bad, there was no guarantee it would even be delivered at all.Packages were sent back and forth across the country. They were shipped to the opposite side of the country they were intended for. Some were lost for weeks, even months.
    Like every other government agency, they are heavy with retirees and their fat pensions.
    I remember when stamps were 3 cents.
    I no longer will ship anything via USPS.

    1. A lot of the mail sat in trucks in PO lots. And probably still does. And I remember when the Fed hadn’t yet embarked on its insane policy of unlimited inflation.

  17. I don’t see what the big deal is – just make what they’re doing legal. Problem solved. As an American, it’s your duty to donate a little privacy so the … the uh… the leader of the post office? Well, whoever. So that guy can find out if anyone is plotting to… to ah… who in the fuck would ever want to hurt a mailman? They’re like mr Rogers, you don’t hurt a mailman.

    Yeah, I’m just buying any of this horseshit. What next? My neighbor is gonna start spying on me too?

  18. « Barksdale ne pouvait pas nous dire… combien les contribuables payaient pour le faire fonctionner, ni même quelle autorité légale le bureau de poste avait pour espionner les activités du public sur les réseaux sociaux. » et donc les contribuables payent pour être espionner quel ”hogra” , mépris et non respect des valeurs de la démocratie . si c’est au Maroc, Algerie, Egypte je dirais c’est ce que font tous les dictateurs à savoir saisir l’eau à l’état liquide etc’est pour cette réson il y des manifestations qui setransforment en révolution pour neutraliserces forces du mal et d’instaurer une vraie démocratie

    1. Mes quelques années de français m’ont aidé à comprendre la plupart de votre message. Mon cœur se brise alors que je viens d’apprendre à quel point les « hogra » sont traités dans la région MENA

  19. for all the stupid people who are worried about ‘tax payer dollars’ and the postal service the postal service gets ZERO tax payer dollar and pays for everything with revenue collected from the sale of postage. idiots.

    1. You know who’s the stupid one? The idiot who doesn’t know that the Feds gave the USPS $10,000,000,000 IN TAXPAYER DOLLARS just last December.

      So stop embarrassing yourself Cliff and just shut the fuck up.

    2. So let them do without the Congressionally-granted letter mail-carrying monopoly and do like the Amish bumper sticker says: “Let the chips fall where they may!”

  20. “The type of amorphous, broad mandate under which iCOP is allegedly operating is particularly troubling because it is unclear why the USPS, of all government agencies and the only one devoted to the delivery of Americans’ mail, is taking on the role of intelligence collection,”

    Not that hard to figure out why the USPS – which is not a member of the Intelligence Community – is doing this. 1) trying to fly under the radar of watchdogs, 2) very likely not subject to Intelligence Oversight requirements, and 3) FYTW.

  21. So: pretty much on the heels of this, it appears that the Democratic National Committee is going to be monitoring and censoring your private SMS texts.

    1. Good luck on that. I don’t text. LOL

  22. Regarding the Post Offices “side line”, and the effort it takes, that might explain the diminished quality of postal service we experience.

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  25. I boycotted all social media sites since the beginning of MySpace. My sister has always tried to convince me to join Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. I am glad that I listened to my gut and never created a profile on these sites; the last year of social media and political chaos proves that I had the right idea!

    1. But you are social media right now. This comment thread is social media.

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