Tracking your mail: Ripe for abuse
An internal U.S. Postal Service audit reveals almost 50,000 requests approved in 2013 for secret monitoring of mail in criminal and national-security investigations — which means avoiding electronic means can’t hide Americans’ communications from government’s prying eyes and abuse of safeguards.
Along with the audit, interviews and documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show postal surveillance “is more extensive than previously disclosed and … oversight protecting Americans from potential abuses is lax,” according to The New York Times.
Opening mail requires warrants. But the warrantless “postal covers” program “records names, return addresses and other exterior information on letters and packages” — postal metadata — before delivery.
The Times found “many cases” of postal monitoring approved “without adequately describing the reason or having proper written authorization,” requests “not processed in time” and tracking numbers erroneously assigned to multiple requests. And “a few cases” showed apparent law-enforcement abuse.
Frank Askin, a professor at the Rutgers Constitutional Rights Clinic, says Postal Service personnel aren’t “schooled in the meaning of the First Amendment.” Nor are they schooled in Fourth Amendment protections that “postal covers” skirt.
It’s time for Americans to realize how extensive and worrisome mail monitoring is — and for Congress to curb its abuse.