!!!!! RT: US Postal Service photographing 160 billion letters annually

Published time: July 05, 2013 14:32

Reuters / John Sommers IIReuters / John Sommers II

As Washington officials continue to grapple with the fallout from the NSA scandal, it has been revealed that the US Postal Service photographs the outside of every piece of mail it processes each year – around 160 billion pieces annually.

At the request of law enforcement agencies, postal workers take pictures of the  letters and packages before they are delivered, the New York Times reported.

The information is then stored for an indefinite period of time in the event a law enforcement official requests it. Each year, tens of thousands of pieces of mail are subjected to further scrutiny.

Reading the contents of a letter requires a court-ordered warrant, but in the case of ‘mail cover’ requests, law enforcement agencies submit a letter to the Postal Service, which “rarely denies a request.”

Although the ‘mail covers’ program has been around for nearly a century, its updated successor, the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking (MICT) program, was created in the aftermath of the anthrax attacks in late 2001 that killed five people, including two postal workers.

MICT requests are separated into two categories: those related to possible criminal activity and those that are meant to protect national security. Requests based on suspected criminal activity average 15,000 to 20,000 per year, unnamed law enforcement officials told the Times.

The number of requests for mail covers related to the fight against terrorism has not been made public.

Although law enforcement officials must have warrants to open private correspondence, former President George W. Bush signed off on a document in 2007 that gave the federal government the authority to open mail without warrants in“emergencies or in foreign intelligence cases.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigations revealed the existence of MICT last month in the course of an investigation over ricin-laced letters mailed to President Barack Obama and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

News of the US Postal Service’s surveillance program comes as Washington is facing heated criticism over a formerly covert surveillance program that gave the National Security Agency (NSA), in cooperation with nine of the world’s largest internet companies, sweeping powers to collect data on telephone calls and internet habits of billions of people both at home and abroad.

The information was made public after former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, blew the whistle on the activities.

Officials in the Obama administration, meanwhile, are attempting to justify the NSA’s surveillance programs, saying the electronic monitoring amounts to the same thing as examining the outside of a letter. At the very least, the program shows that traditional mail is held up to the same kind of scrutiny that the NSA has given to phone calls, e-mail and internet services.

“It’s a treasure trove of information,” James J. Wedick, a former FBI agent told The New York Times. “Looking at just the outside of letters and other mail, I can see who you bank with, who you communicate with — all kinds of useful information that gives investigators leads that they can then follow up on with a subpoena.”

But, he added: “It can be easily abused because it’s so easy to use and you don’t have to go through a judge to get the information. You just fill out a form.”

Bruce Schneier, a computer security expert and an author, called the program an invasion of privacy.

“Basically they are doing the same thing as the other programs, collecting the information on the outside of your mail, the metadata, if you will, of names, addresses, return addresses and postmark locations, which gives the government a pretty good map of your contacts, even if they aren’t reading the contents,” he told the US newspaper.

The surveillance requests on mail covers are granted for about 30 days, and can be extended for up to 120 days.

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11 Responses to !!!!! RT: US Postal Service photographing 160 billion letters annually

  1. Pingback: World of Surveillance and ‘Big Brother’ |

  2. Pingback: WORLD OF SURVEILENCE AND ‘BIG BROTHER’ | sreaves32

  3. Pingback: World of Surveilence and ‘Big Brother’ | Keys To Liberty

  4. DB says:

    I don’t trust the postal service. Let me tell you what happened to me several years ago. I mailed my house payment, dropping it into a USPS drop box. Since I had a new lender, I hadn’t gotten my online payment system set up as I’d always made payments in the past. All of my payments are done online and I checked and rechecked the envelope to make sure it had postage and the address was showing in the window. A friend was with me when we dropped it in the box and he, too, checked the front of the envelope.

    Two weeks later and right before the payment was past due it had still not shown up at the lender’s office (a 30 minute drive away from where it was mailed). Finally I checked my mailbox and the envelope had been returned to me, but now only the check showed in the window and the envelope had been glued shut. There is only one group of people who could have done this and they consist of postal employees.

    THAT is why I do not trust the post office and use them as little as possible.

  5. Carol K says:

    ILEX …Hallmark is still in business making greeting cards for b’day. get well, sympathy etc. and I know a bunch of older folks who don’t have and don’t want a computer…….ho hum ……

  6. acefinance says:

    Reblogged this on Ace News Services and commented:
    What is the “Real Truth” about your postal service and who is checking on your mail! read this excellent article provided courtesy of Reuters/John Sommers and RT by “What’s the real truth”

  7. Wysywig says:

    How do they find the time?


  8. Nine says:

    Dearest jean,

    More of what I call the Internets best fear porn….

    The postal service has been scanning all letters for over 20 years with OCR technology….what would you rather have two million workers or 500000 to sort through the mountains of mail….and that automation is what is driving one of the most productive sectors of the economy….far better than any bank I might add and its a service for the people….

    Back in 2006 the Bush administration signed a bi-partisen bill requiring the postal service to prefund retirement 75 years out in the future and to make up about 6 billion per year as “catch up” payments to achieve this….all of the so called “postal losses” are due to this legislation ….

    Mind no other organization public or private has this onerous burden….the USPS was targeted for privatization by the elite so that they could greatly profit while cutting service to the American people…sound familiar to you?

    The service sells its products substantially under cost to the mass mailers…you know all that shyt ya get in yer mail box…yeah that’s right they do this at a loss so that the few can get rich….

    Then they turn around and blame the workers for the losses….same ole….same ole….

    Let me tell ya the End Game for the Postal Service….they want the real estate that is in all of our cities that is worth trillions of dollars built up over 238 years as a service to the people…..

    That my dear family is our American nest egg and so think very clearly upon what would be done with this resource…..

    And back to the mail….are these images stored? Maybe over at NSA but not with USPS they don’t have the budget nor man power……

    You simply have no idea of how huge the USPS operation is and how very deceptive this article really is to promote one thing which is fear of what is one of our most trusted institutions….

    The Postal Inspection service handles these things and believe you me they are busy with all the scams out there generated by the internet that migrates to the physical mail stream…..so I would say relax….they are incapable of watching you and why would they want to?

    You simply would be astounded by how much your local letter carrier knows about his customers on his mail route…..its an American institution…..


  9. Barb says:

    No wonder the price of postage stamps keeps going up and the postal service is broke!

  10. ilex says:

    I thought that we had internet service today, granted it’s all monitored, but who sends letters or mail through USPS???????

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