A couple of weeks back, we had quite the go-round regarding the revelations of the NSA snooping program that collected cell phone “metadata” – i.e., who you called and when, but not the contents of the call. (Set aside for now questions whether the NSA actually listened to the calls themselves.) I tried to raise a few questions, and was vigorously shouted down. In particular, I wondered whether it would be different if the postal service was tracking “metadata” of snail mail.
Think again, folks.
Mr. Pickering [an environmental activist] was targeted by a longtime surveillance system called mail covers, but that is only a forerunner of a vastly more expansive effort, 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. It is not known how long the government saves the images.
Together, the two programs show that snail mail is subject to the same kind of scrutiny that the National Security Agency has given to telephone calls and e-mail….
The Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program was created after the anthrax attacks in late 2001 that killed five people, including two postal workers…. It enables the Postal Service to retroactively track mail correspondence at the request of law enforcement. No one disputes that it is sweeping.
“In the past, mail covers were used when you had a reason to suspect someone of a crime,” said Mark D. Rasch, the former director of the Justice Department’s computer crime unit, who worked on several fraud cases using mail covers. “Now it seems to be ‘Let’s record everyone’s mail so in the future we might go back and see who you were communicating with.’ Essentially you’ve added mail covers on millions of Americans.”
Have at it.