Reason Roundup

USPS Gets Hit With Lawsuit Over Social Media Snooping

Plus: Whistleblower on drone killings sentenced to federal prison, Biden carries on Trump's legacy on trade and immigration, and more...


Lawsuit filed over USPS surveillance. The nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is suing over a secretive social media surveillance program conducted by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).

As Reason noted in the August/September 2021 issue, USPS has been running an Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP), in which U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) agents are tasked with monitoring the likes of Facebook, Parler, Twitter, and Telegram for information about protests and more. Agents with iCOP "assume fake identities online, use sophisticated intelligence tools and employ facial recognition software," Yahoo News revealed last April.

But not a lot is known about the iCOP program—which is where EFF comes in. For now, the group is simply seeking more information about the program. After USPIS ignored EFF's requests for this information, the group filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, seeking more on the iCOP program's creation, operation, and policies, including what it does with the data collected and how it shares this information with other agencies.

"We're filing this FOIA lawsuit to shine a light on why and how the Postal Service is monitoring online speech," Houston Davidson, EFF public interest legal fellow, said in a statement. "This lawsuit aims to protect the right to protest. The government has never explained the legal justifications for this surveillance. We're asking a court to order the USPIS to disclose details about this speech-monitoring program, which threatens constitutional guarantees of free expression and privacy."

"People self-censor when they think their speech is being monitored and could be used to target them. A government effort to scour people's social media accounts is a threat to our civil liberties," added EFF senior staff attorney Aaron Mackey.

You can read the full EFF complaint here.


Prison time for whistleblower on drone killings. Daniel Hale told the truth about America's secret drone assassinations in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. For that, he's been sentenced to federal prison. A former U.S. Air Force intelligence analyst, Hale was "sentenced to 45 months in prison after he previously pleaded guilty to passing along classified documents to a reporter that were subsequently published in 2015," as Reason's Scott Shackford notes:

Hale's leaks were intended to show that the drone assassinations under President Barack Obama were not what the American public believed them to be. The government insisted that its secret "kill list" of terrorists was carefully vetted, and the drone strikes were only deployed to kill those the government and military believed it was unfeasible to arrest.

The reality, Hale revealed, was the drone strikes regularly resulted in the death of innocents, and the government covered it up by automatically classifying anybody killed as "militants" even when they weren't the targets of the strikes. This allowed the government to insist that civilian casualties were being kept to a minimum.


Biden continues Trump's bad protectionist ways on trade and immigration. Today, President Joe Biden will give a speech about new "Buy American" rules, reportedly raising the minimum amount of a product that must be made in the U.S. (from 55 percent to 75 percent) in order to be considered American-made. Biden will give the speech at a Pennsylvania plant of Mack Trucks—a foreign-owned company (it belongs to the Swedish Volvo Group) that relies on imported steel from Europe to make its trucks.

"'Buy American' rules are just another form of protectionism: they've been found, for example, to act as a barrier to entering the U.S. market and to raise domestic prices in the same way that a tariff does," writes Scott Lincicome at the Cato Institute.

Special provisions in the rules, moreover, make them a particularly‐​generous handout for the U.S. steel industry (to steel consumers' clear detriment). The restrictions also encourage foreign retaliation against U.S. exporters, and, far from improving federal projects, routinely confound them (via higher prices, more paperwork, project delays, etc.). Indeed, according to one recent (and quite relevant for today's purposes) study, "Buy American" restrictions tied to federal transportation subsidies raised the price of domestically‐​produced transit buses and discouraged the purchase of more efficient foreign‐​made buses, thus lowering the quality and use of public transit (frequency and coverage), increasing traffic congestion, and harming the environment.

The Biden administration is also carrying on many of former President Donald Trump's bad immigration policies. Last week, it announced that it would process 100,000 fewer green card applications this year than are allowed to be processed.

"Without drastic revisions in the glacial processing times, President Biden will have presided over one of the largest cuts to legal immigration in U.S. history — and almost no one is talking about it," notes the Cato Institute's David J. Bier in The Washington Post:

While Biden will own this unwelcome distinction, former president Donald Trump staged this disaster last year by barring most immigrants sponsored by their family members from entering the United States. This caused 120,000 family green card slots to go unused.

Green cards permit holders to permanently live and work in the United States, and immigration law provides two primary routes to obtain them — sponsorship by family members or by employers. If fewer family-based green cards are issued than are allotted, the law requires that the unused family-based number from one year be added to the cap for employment-based green cards in the following year — in this case, an additional 120,000 slots (on top of the annual 140,000).

But here's the problem: If those additional employment-based slots aren't used by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, they are lost forever. And the administration is now saying that most won't be, largely because of bureaucracy and a lack of preparation by the federal government.


• "Thirty-two unaccompanied immigrant children who were deported to Guatemala despite a judge's order have yet to be brought back to the US to apply for asylum, six months after the government admitted it was in the wrong," reports BuzzFeed.

• More federal whistleblowers have come forward about conditions at shelters for unaccompanied migrant kids.

• State leaders are starting to scapegoat immigrants for rising COVID-19 rates.

Gawker is back!

• Organized labor is divided over vaccine mandates.

• Federal anti-gun task forces are drawing criticism, as some communities see an onslaught of arrests. "In this day and age with so many studies, so many evidenced-based resources surrounding violence interruption and strategies to reduce violence, it's crazy to see folks that do not live in our community take it upon themselves to call in the [federal government] to criminalize us," activist Stanley Martin told Time.

• Google is banning sugar daddy apps.

New research from the University of Toronto suggests about 28 percent of people with previous suicide attempts are now mentally healthy. "Our findings indicate a significant minority of individuals with a history of suicide attempts go on to achieve high levels of happiness and psychological flourishing," said lead researcher Esme Fuller-Thomson. Social support and lack of insomnia or chronic pain were key factors.

• Is there anything Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Lina Khan can't blame tech platforms for?

• A good ruling from the FTC on right to repair:

Restricting consumers and businesses from choosing how they repair products can substantially increase the total cost of repairs, generate harmful electronic waste, and unnecessarily increase wait times for repairs. In contrast, providing more choice in repairs can lead to lower costs, reduce e-waste by extending the useful lifespan of products, enable more timely repairs, and provide economic opportunities for entrepreneurs and local businesses.

• Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) is back on her wealth tax gambit.