The U.S. Postal Service’s law enforcement division is running a covert operation tracking and collecting Americans’ social media posts, Yahoo News reported.
The postal service’s Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP) monitored social media accounts for “inflammatory” posts and protest plans, according to an internal document obtained by Yahoo News. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) investigated Parler and Telegram accounts that referenced protests that were supposed to occur on March 20 for the so-called International Day of Protests, the document showed.
“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,” an internal government memo said, according to Yahoo.
“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 said, according to Yahoo.
The document didn’t explain why the USPS was engaged in alleged covert surveillance operations monitoring American citizens’ protest activities. The postal service said that iCOP is a part of a broader effort to assess threats postal workers face using public information, according to Yahoo.
But civil liberties experts said the operation is a “mystery” and questioned the legality of the activity, according to Yahoo. University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone, who worked on national security issues during former President Barack Obama’s administration, said he didn’t understand how such an operation would be under the USPS’ purview, according to Yahoo.
“This seems a little bizarre,” Rachel Levinson-Waldman, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s liberty and national security program, told Yahoo. “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,” Levinson-Waldman told Yahoo.
She added that the government monitoring U.S. citizens’ protected speech raises “serious” constitutional concerns, Yahoo reported.
Meanwhile, the USPS has faced significant financial issues over the past decade. The USPS lost $69 billion between 2007 and 2018, according to a 2020 Government Accountability Office report that called the postal service’s financial position “unsustainable.”
It is unclear what the budget for iCOP is.
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