Government tracking all snail-mail, no warrant required

Add your mail to the list of things being spied on.

The United States Postal Service photographs every piece of mail it processes under a program that started after the anthrax attacks of 2001, according to a report Wednesday in the New York Times.

postalserviceThat’s 160 billion purchases, letters, bills, gifts – everything you’ve ever mailed or had mailed to you in the past decade or more is on record somewhere with the government under the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program, The Times reports.

The control and tracking program has its origins in a well-established criminal investigation tool and national security program called mail covers. Under the mail covers program, any law enforcement agency could ask the postal service to record mail delivered to an address under investigation, usually for 30 days.

Mail covers for criminal investigations average about 15,000 to 20,000 a year, The Times reports. The number of mail covers for national security investigation has not been made public.

The control and tracking program, The Times reports, is much more expansive – basically doing with material communications what the National Security Agency has acknowledged doing with electronic communications: recording everything. That enables the postal service to track mail correspondence retroactively at the request of any law enforcement agency, according to the report.

However, the government maintains it records only information on mail’s exterior, it doesn’t keep track of the contents, The Times report says. That would require a warrant.

But one former FBI agent quoted in the article said the outside contains plenty of information for prying eyes.

Thirty-four-year FBI veteran James J. Wedick, who  told The Times he used mail covers in numerous investigations over his career with the bureau, said they can be invaluable to government snoops.

“It’s a treasure trove of information,” he said.  “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.

“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.”

And it’s all on record with the government.


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