US Postal Service Engaging in Secret Operation to Monitor Americans’ Social Media
Yahoo News revealed on Wednesday that the United States Postal Service has been covertly collecting data on Americans’ social media posts.
A government bulletin dated March 16 obtained by the outlet said that the federal postal service’s law enforcement arm has been tracking citizens’ posts on social media. The data they’re collecting is anything regarding planned protests and “inflammatory” posts. The data is shared among several federal agencies as part of an effort dubbed the Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP).
The document obtained by Yahoo was marked “law enforcement sensitive” and explicitly mentioned an alleged protest planned for March 20. The information was distributed through Homeland Security.
The bulletin said, "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. 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."
Additionally, the bulletin stated that the intelligence brought forth by iCOP admitted there was no concrete evidence that the alleged protest would legitimately take place:
A number of groups were expected to gather in cities around the globe on March 20 as part of a World Wide Rally for Freedom and Democracy, to protest everything from lockdown measures to 5G. “Parler users have commented about their intent to use the rallies to engage in violence. Image 3 on the right is a screenshot from Parler indicating two users discussing the event as an opportunity to engage in a 'fight' and to 'do serious damage,'" says the bulletin. “No intelligence is available to suggest the legitimacy of these threats," it adds. The bulletin includes screenshots of posts about the protests from Facebook, Parler, Telegram and other social media sites. Individuals mentioned by name include one alleged Proud Boy and several others whose identifying details were included but whose posts did not appear to contain anything threatening. “iCOP analysts are currently monitoring these social media channels for any potential threats stemming from the scheduled protests and will disseminate intelligence updates as needed," the bulletin says.
The release of the bulletin does not go without plenty of constitutional concerns surrounding the program and its surveillance of citizens.
Deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s liberty and national security program, Rachel Levinson-Waldman, told Yahoo News that the program “seems a little bizarre.”
"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," she added. "It's not at all clear why their mandate would include monitoring of social media that's unrelated to use of the postal system."
Pointing to the possible unconstitutionality of the program, Levinson-Waldman said, "If the individuals they're monitoring are carrying out or planning criminal activity, that should be the purview of the FBI. If they're simply engaging in lawfully protected speech, even if it's odious or objectionable, then monitoring them on that basis raises serious constitutional concerns.”