(Ken Silva, Headline USA) When the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s secret Internet Covert Operations Program, or iCOP, was revealed by Yahoo News in 2021, many observers asked the logical question: Why does the post office need to spy on social media?
A member of Congress is finally doing something to address that troubling question.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., introduced legislation last month that would abolish iCOP. Gaetz’s legislation would prohibit any federal funds, including amounts available in the Postal Service Fund, from being used by USPIS to carry out iCOP, or any other similar program.
“The Postal Service should be focused on delivering the mail on time and on budget, not running a covert surveillance program to monitor political behavior on social media,” Gaetz said in a press release.
“This program is not only outside USPIS’ jurisdiction and infringes on American citizens’ civil liberties but is more evidence of the government-sanctioned spying on its own citizens. Congress must immediately abolish this program.”
In March 2022, the USPS Inspector General released a report stating that “certain proactive searches iCOP conducted using an open-source intelligence tool from February to April 2021 exceed the Postal Inspection Service’s law enforcement authority.”
But since then, there has been no indication that USPS has shut down iCOP, likely meaning that this surveillance program is still violating Americans’ privacy and seeking to curb their First Amendment rights.
Postal Police Officers Association President Frank Albergo has also criticized the USPIS for devoting resources to iCOP while cutting back on postal police officer amidst spiking mail theft.
In 2022, 412 USPS letter carriers were robbed on the job, according to a Postal Service press release from earlier this month. Additionally, the agency reported an increase in high volume mail theft incidents from mail receptacles: 38,500 2022 and more than 25,000 in the first half of fiscal year 2023.
“According to the Inspection Service, it has the power to conduct surveillance on every piece of mail but does not have the power to deploy uniformed postal police officers to protect the mail and postal workers,” Albergo told Headline USA in May.
“Can you imagine a law enforcement agency that doesn’t want their uniformed law enforcement officers to enforce the law? Actually, in this day and age, you probably can imagine it.”
Privacy advocates have applauded Gaetz for his legislation.
“The program was also used to monitor conservative-leaning social media sites for potential violent activity by groups like the Proud Boys. You don’t have to defend the extreme views of some of these groups to feel the tug of the slippery slope,” the Project for Privacy & Surveillance Accountability said in a press release about the matter.
“PPSA is pleased to see Rep. Gaetz’ bill begin to address the widespread practice of federal monitoring of Americans’ internet posts. In the era of digital communications, it is worrying to see the USPS transition from a postal to a surveillance agency,” the group said.
“Congress must take steps to reign in this covert and lesser-known form of government spying now.”
Ken Silva is a staff writer at Headline USA. Follow him at twitter.com/jd_cashless.