By Janet Allon
By Janet Allon
|Photo Credit: mikeledray/Shutterstock.com|
The NSA isn't the only federal agency collecting your metadata. It turns out the good ole U.S. Postal Service has long been engaged in its share of low-tech domestic surveillance. As the New York Times reports today, a Buffalo, NY bookstore owner by the name of Leslie James Pickering was recently startled to discover his snail mail was being monitored by the F.B.I. with the help of the U.S.P.S. It happened by mistake, shockingly enough for the Postal Service. In his stack of mail, Pickering noticed a handwritten card directing postal workers to pay particular attention to letters and packages sent to his home, and to show them to their supervisor for copying before delivery. It also said "Confidential" highlighted in green. Oops.
Pickering was, to say the least, taken aback. “It was a bit of a shock to see it,” he told The Times. Turns out, ten years ago he was an activist of sorts, a spokesman for the Earth Liberation Front, which was labeled as a radical environmental group by the F.B.I.
While high-tech spying on the scale that Edward Snowden recently revealed is new, low-tech spying on the part of the Postal Service has been around for a while. For a long time it was a surveillance system called Mail Covers, The Times reports, but that has been replaced by a much more ambitious program ominously called the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program, "in which Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year." This program was created after the anthrax attacks of 2001, which killed 5 people. It was used in the recent ricin letter investigation. Supposedly, postal workers only record the outside of letters and packages before delivering them. They can't open your mail without a warrant. What is causing concern is just how sweeping the reach of this program has become.