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USPS Logs All Snail Mail For Law Enforcement 324

Posted by Soulskill
from the feel-free-to-keep-all-the-spam dept.
The NY Times reports on a program in use by the United States Postal Service that photographs the exterior of every piece of mail going through the system and keeps it for law enforcement agencies. While the volume of snail mail is dropping, there were still over 160 billion pieces of mail last year. "The Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program was created after the anthrax attacks in late 2001 that killed five people, including two postal workers. Highly secret, it seeped into public view last month when the F.B.I. cited it in its investigation of ricin-laced letters sent to President Obama and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. It enables the Postal Service to retroactively track mail correspondence at the request of law enforcement. No one disputes that it is sweeping." This is in addition to the "mail covers" program, which has been used to keep tabs on mailings sent to and from suspicious individuals for over a century. "For mail cover requests, law enforcement agencies simply submit a letter to the Postal Service, which can grant or deny a request without judicial review. Law enforcement officials say the Postal Service rarely denies a request. In other government surveillance program, such as wiretaps, a federal judge must sign off on the requests. The mail cover surveillance requests are granted for about 30 days, and can be extended for up to 120 days. There are two kinds of mail covers: those related to criminal activity and those requested to protect national security. The criminal activity requests average 15,000 to 20,000 per year, said law enforcement officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are prohibited by law from discussing the requests. The number of requests for antiterrorism mail covers has not been made public."
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USPS Logs All Snail Mail For Law Enforcement

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  • Sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cyberpocalypse (2845685) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @02:11PM (#44179491)
    While I understand WHY the USPS would do this, I wonder how much money they've spend on storing data (the photos) all the while cutting the hours of employees due to budget cuts, etc. as for the comment by Bruce Schneier: "whether it was a postal worker taking down information or a computer taking images, the program was still an invasion of privacy." I disagree. There is a difference between taking an address down and reading your mail. I don't see Bruce complaining about UPS, FedEx, etc. doing the same. Get over it
    • Now... if only they could take this technology and use it to filter out the spam.

      Yeah, yeah, I know, they make most of their money on spam.

      • Re:Sigh (Score:4, Interesting)

        by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @03:05PM (#44180337)

        I'm wondering why there are still any unsolved major crimes. The government has access almost all of your communications. And if you have a cell phone they have a record of where that cell phone travels.

        If all of this is to fight "terrorism" then why haven't we also wiped out kidnapping, drug gangs, organized crime and such?

        If this worked, the USofA should be virtually crime free.

        • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Culture20 (968837) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @03:25PM (#44180617)

          I'm wondering why there are still any unsolved major crimes. The government has access almost all of your communications. And if you have a cell phone they have a record of where that cell phone travels.

          Because criminals have suspected that "the government has access almost all of your communications" even if they didn't have express proof. The only communications that have ever been monitored (excepting throw-away phones and dead-drop mailing) have been law-abiding citizens who would never have thought to suspect that they were being monitored (and thus did nothing to obfuscate their communications).
          As someone else mentioned in another thread, this doesn't seem to solve major crimes, so it doesn't seem to be about solving major crimes. At best, minor crimes (except they don't meet the level to warrant a warrant, so really at best it's a waste of money). At worst, it's a handy way to gather data about political opponents even if that was never the intent (corruption and abuse happens; preventing tools like this from being abused is important enough to dismantle the tools themselves).

        • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Funny)

          by FatdogHaiku (978357) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @03:46PM (#44180847)

          I'm wondering why there are still any unsolved major crimes.

          Movies have taught the master criminals to MAKE SURE James Bond is dead before doing a 5 minute monolog about their dastardly plan... Also to avoid the use of highly flammable stuff when constructing a secret lair.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          All of this surveillance of US citizens' phone calls, postal mail, internet communications, law enforcement video monitoring in public spaces, etc.; and yet somehow the Boston bombing still happened! And supposedly it was done by a couple of kids fully connected into "the grid", who were persons of interest to the FBI, and not super-spies.

          I see only a few possibilities. Either all this surveillance is useless against anyone, or the Boston bombing was an inside government job.

    • So its ok they are logging who mails who on EVERYONE? That is HIGHLY ILLEGAL.
      • by Sarten-X (1102295)

        How? Which piece of legislation forbids the USPS from logging what it handles?

        • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

          by spire3661 (1038968) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @02:37PM (#44179929) Journal
          Do i really need to explain how the 4th should be preventing the USPS from turning over logging records EN MASSE to law enforcement?
          • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

            by pixelpusher220 (529617) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @02:40PM (#44179983)
            sadly today, probably, yes, you do need to explain it.

            The only thing sadder than our govt's secret slide into an Orwellian police state is that if they had just asked for the permissions, the public likely would have said no problemo! sigh.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward

              It's no longer a secret slide. They are going to an Orwellian police state, in plain sight.

          • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

            by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @02:46PM (#44180083)

            Do i really need to explain how the 4th should be preventing the USPS from turning over logging records EN MASSE to law enforcement?

            They're only photographing the *outside* of the mail, which, in TelCo speak, is the metadata and is also clearly in "plain sight". I'm not taking a position on whether this is "right" or "wrong", but I don't see how it's currently illegal. Personally, I've always assumed the US mail was (somehow) tracked and recorded, just like with UPS and FedEx.

            • by icebike (68054)

              Do i really need to explain how the 4th should be preventing the USPS from turning over logging records EN MASSE to law enforcement?

              They're only photographing the *outside* of the mail, which, in TelCo speak, is the metadata and is also clearly in "plain sight". I'm not taking a position on whether this is "right" or "wrong", but I don't see how it's currently illegal. Personally, I've always assumed the US mail was (somehow) tracked and recorded, just like with UPS and FedEx.

              They probably have to photograph the outside for Zipcode Optical Character Recognition purposes used in automated mail routing, which is then bar-coded [wikipedia.org] on the envelope.

              It then became really easy for some incremental change to buffer this image off to a disk drive tagged with Source and Destination zip code. Since the President has his own zip code. The original system never was designed to keep all of these encoding, much less the actual images used for OCR.

              But your central point is quite valid. We hande

            • by aepervius (535155) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @05:31PM (#44182185)
              See, a long time ago, it was OK if a few random postal guy saw the outside of your mail, heck even if they *systematically* did it for all your mail. Since thousands passed in their hands, and probably nobody could remember all of them, especially keep track of all the friends/package. The human factor make it so it was not important to look at the outside of the letter.

              Now with technology, massive storage, and automated scanning, this *all* changed. They can keep the name of destination/senderfor every mail. Collate the data. And if they wanted, say which package you got from whom, which letter, who do you write often, etc...

              And that was the "exterior of the letter has no privacy implication" is terribly outdated and alson terriibly wrong : you could now have a pretty good picture of what and whom from a person do order, and whom she is mailing to, and with which frequency. That has implication of privacy *because* of the collation and easy availibility of the data, since it is not anymore a sets of random human not seeing the whole picture, but a cloud of machine with a database havign a very precise picture.

              So since now somebody back decades ago did not see the implication against privacy of letting "just the exterior of the envelop has no expectation of privacy", well now your snail mail will say much more about you than some might want to wish. If you are fine with that, be aware, that not everybody is.

              Frankly I do not care but I can see why some folk would not be happy.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Sarten-X (1102295)

            The 4th what? Surely you don't mean the 4th amendment [umkc.edu]? After all, that amendment protects against unreasonable searches, which is completely unrelated to the issue at hand.

            The Fourth Amendment's protection of "papers" has never applied to the external surface of mail. The outside of mail must be read by the USPS for the service to function, so when you drop a letter in the mailbox, you're implicitly giving the USPS permission to read the visible surface. To my knowledge, there has never been a law preventin

            • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Interesting)

              by g1powermac (812562) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @03:56PM (#44180967)
              Actually, the entire mail piece is considered confidential, and only the necessary bits are to be read. As a former rural carrier, I can attest that you're not allowed to read someone's postcard or thumb through a magazine before delivering it. You're also not allowed to tell others about the kind of mail someone receives, like baby or bridal magazines and the logical conclusions of that type of mail. So, there is some expectation of privacy for mailing for everything except the from and to addresses.
            • Re:Sigh (Score:4, Insightful)

              by Artifakt (700173) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @04:22PM (#44181305)

              The bill of rights is very largely about limiting what the federal government can do. Even if it says that it is totally unconsititutional for the government to do X, there won't be an accompanying constiutional clause against non-government entities doing X, and there may be no laws passed against non-government entities doing X either. A lot of us think that the constitution explicity saying the "Federal Government can't do X", damned-well means "the Federal Government can't spend tax dollars on getting a private entity to do X for them", either. But when we try to open public debate on this, we seem to have to deal with people who are aguing that there is no actual law, just that pesky, trivial, no-big-deal Constitution. Your post reads like that. Sorry, but the Constitution is a bigger deal than all the specific laws the Federal government passes, and not the other way around.

      • Re: HIGHLY ILLEGAL (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Sorry, but haven't you got it yet? They are ABOVE the law, every law, everybody's law. And nobody can do diddley squat about it, though there will be buckets of pious lip service paid, with the requisite crocodile tears and lots of hand wringing. Most people have already forgotten about all this NSA stuff, after all there's all sorts of exciting circuses on TV and just look how much bread we get at Walmart! C'mon, sit back, and EAT, and WATCH, and EAT, and... You'll soon feel happier.

        Just get used to being

      • by icebike (68054)

        So its ok they are logging who mails who on EVERYONE? That is HIGHLY ILLEGAL.

        Dude: you handed the letter to an arm of the government. What part of that is hard to understand?

    • Part of USPS privacy policy (Law Enforcement and Security) https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/privacy-policy/intelligent-mail-privacy.htm#H6 [usps.com]
    • Those fuckers lost a check I sent and it will cost me $30 to cancel and resend. I wonder if I can get a record showing it at least made it into the postal system.

      • by Culture20 (968837)

        Those fuckers lost a check I sent and it will cost me $30 to cancel and resend. I wonder if I can get a record showing it at least made it into the postal system.

        Sure, it'll probably cost you $60.

    • Apparently you can't see the difference between FedEx/UPS and a Government agency? Simply amazing.
    • I don't see Bruce complaining about UPS, FedEx, etc. doing the same. Get over it

      The primary worry being oppression by the government based on political sentiments, the focus is off the USPS because most political organizing, ranting and pontificating happens online these days. If the government relied on USPS generated metadata to determine who was a member of various political organizations, they would probably find the typical MoveOn.org member was over 65 and receiving paper social security checks.

    • by Richy_T (111409)

      Let me know when UPS or Fedex can send armed guys around to your house and throw you in a box where the locks are on the outside...

    • by msauve (701917)
      " I don't see Bruce complaining about UPS, FedEx, etc. doing the same. Get over it"

      Try to send something anonymously through one of those. See the difference?
  • They take photos? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ArcadeMan (2766669) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @02:13PM (#44179517)

    As long as it's only the exterior of the boxes, I don't care.
    As long as they don't X-ray packages (could damage sensitive electronics, perhaps?), I don't care.
    As long as they don't open up the packages (sensitive electronics and static discharges don't mix), I don't care.

    They can take photos of the boxes from my eBay wins, I don't care.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by SirGarlon (845873)
      Would you care if the government demanded you submit a list of all your Facebook friends? If that bothers you, then consider there is little practical difference between that and logging all your mail. Both reveal a graph of your communications.
      • by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @02:19PM (#44179645)
        You asking the government to deliver something for you and they record the shipment is different than the government demanding you submit a list of your facebook friends.
        • by fazey (2806709)
          yea... clearly they already have a list of your facebook friends.
        • I'm not asking them to deliver it; I'm paying them to deliver it. They work for me. This is no different than if FedEx or UPS did it. They don't get a special pass because they's da guberment!
          • by P-niiice (1703362)
            I'm pretty sure fedex and ups do this.
            • You are pretty sure that FedEx records everything, and if Law Enforcement wants a copy they send a request to FedEx and FedEx decides if they can have it? I have to believe you didn't think your post out very well.
          • Explain to me how recording the shipment prevents them from delivering it? You got what you paid for.
            • So when a woman goes to the Gynocologists and receives a thorough exam and the doctor films it keeps a copy on hand in case Johhny Law wants to see it, she shouldn't complain because she got what she paid for?
          • I didn't see this gem:

            They don't get a special pass because they's da guberment!

            Logic dictates that if you don't want the government to know you shipped something, you shouldn't ask the government to do it for you.

            Also the USPS is only taking pictures of the outside of the mail. Technically they only really know where the mail is going. So it would be more accurate to say:

            If you don't want the government to know what your mail looks like, then don't ask the government to deliver it to you.

          • Just because you're paying them doesn't mean you're not asking. Just like Walmart can refuse you service even though you're paying them.

          • by TheCarp (96830)

            This is true, but, it wouldn't be illegal if they did it either, in fact, they could likely turn around and make a profit selling that data to the government.

            In fact, the general wisdom of those in the know (a while back I had relations with some people who used to move a lot of grass, even used to ship it) is that USPS is actually the safest carrier to use because they are the government.

            As such, they are the only package carrier that actually has restrictions on what they can do in terms of searching pack

      • by alen (225700)

        so you say that UPS and Fedex don't keep records of every shipment they process?

      • by Nyder (754090)

        Would you care if the government demanded you submit a list of all your Facebook friends?....

        Why would the government demand that? They already are tapped into Facebook, they know all your friends, and your private pictures.

    • by bellers (254327)

      People who use postcards may not feel the same way.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @02:28PM (#44179803)

        So put it in a fucking envelope.

        Seriously, who expects privacy with a postcard????

    • by wbr1 (2538558) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @02:24PM (#44179759)
      Would you care if your wife/girlfriends package from adam and eve, or victorias secret was photoed?

      How about the box your penis pump came in?

      All your vitamins and supplements ordered online?

      The point is not everyone WANTS THE GOVERNMENT TO HAVE DATA ON EVERY BIT OF THEIR PRIVATE LIFE!

      It is people like you with the blase I dont care when someone is shoving a baseball bat in your ass that are helping the plutocracy ruin this country. Your complacence makes me ill.

      • by gandhi_2 (1108023)

        I was just sending the USPS a photo of my penis pump. While it is in use!

        I have nothing to hide! Do you?

    • by icebike (68054)

      As long as it's only the exterior of the boxes, I don't care.
      As long as they don't X-ray packages (could damage sensitive electronics, perhaps?), I don't care.
      As long as they don't open up the packages (sensitive electronics and static discharges don't mix), I don't care.

      They can take photos of the boxes from my eBay wins, I don't care.

      What makes you think its only boxes?
      What makes you think its only the envelop.

      With a sufficiently powerful flash, the contents of most envelopes can be read and decoded (separating overlapping text on the front and back of pages), without even opening the letter.

  • by paiute (550198) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @02:13PM (#44179519)
    You will never stop us, dogs of Satan! We are everywhere!
    sincerely,
    Muhammad bin Occupant
  • I've been getting a lot of mail lately with no postmark. That's just BS, because postmarked mail can have enormous legal implications.

    One of the Post Office's primary functions is to POSTMARK mail! If they aren't doing that -- and in a lot of cases, they haven't been -- they're very seriously not doing their jobs.

    Prepaid bulk mail is one thing. But metered mail? How do I know you didn't meter it in your office one day, then actually send it two weeks later? Other mail? Hey, postal service: it's not JU
    • I'm sure you have a citation for this "obligation to postmark".

      Mind providing it?

      Let me help you with a link to start from [usps.com]:
      "Postmarks are not required for mailings bearing a permit, meter, or precanceled stamp for postage"
  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @02:14PM (#44179539)

    A public debate about blanket surveillance and the meaning of the 4th Amendment is long overdue. The more dirt comes up all at once, the harder it will be for the public and Congress to ignore.

    There are really two possible outcomes: either Congress gets off its ass to rein in this kind of BS, or the American people actually admit they don't mind being spied on by the government (and there's a spike in emigration from the US to Europe).

    • by pspahn (1175617)

      I don't really see the public getting pissed off about this. It's mail, a physical package, that is having its "meta data" recorded, instead of a virtual thing like an email or a phone call which connotes that is some how more entitled to absolute privacy.

      Would I have a problem with the USPS taking photos of things I send in the mail? Not particularly. I wish it didn't have to come to this, but the goal is to protect against whack-jobs that send scary shit in the mail. Do I have a problem with someone "tak

    • by P-niiice (1703362)
      We admitted we don't mind being spied upon when we made this legal via the Patriot act.
  • http://xkcd.com/325/ [xkcd.com]
    just sayin'
  • by Thornburg (264444) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @02:15PM (#44179569)

    It has long been held by US courts that the exteriors of letters and other items sent through the mail are not considered private.

    It makes sense that they are allowed to photograph and record them for later use.

    I mean, did you really think that a piece of mail sent through a government controlled organization would be hidden from law enforcement?

    Now, if they are doing the same for UPS/FedEx/etc, then there might be a slightly larger concern, but still not really a big deal.
    Or, if they were opening (or scanning the inside without opening) and recording the contents of sealed mail without a warrant, that would also be concerning.

    • Re:Not a big deal (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @02:24PM (#44179757)

      "It has long been held by US courts that the exteriors of letters and other items sent through the mail are not considered private."

      Irrelevant. Systematic collection of public information can legally (not to mention morally) constitute "surveillance" and an invasion of privacy. Have you ever heard of stalkers? I've had people stalk me. Why would you give the government a pass or stalking when you wouldn't tolerate it from anyone else?

      "It makes sense that they are allowed to photograph and record them for later use."

      It makes sense to them. It doesn't make sense from a citizen's perspective. And guess which is more important?

      "I mean, did you really think that a piece of mail sent through a government controlled organization would be hidden from law enforcement?"

      Again: there is a very big difference between information simply being "public", and a systematic collection of that information. The courts have recognized this.

      "... but still not really a big deal."

      (Sound of loud buzzer.) Ehhhhh... sorry. That's not quite the answer we were looking for. Perhaps you'd prefer to live in Cuba?

      • by Thornburg (264444)

        (Sound of loud buzzer.) Ehhhhh... sorry. That's not quite the answer we were looking for. Perhaps you'd prefer to live in Cuba?

        These days, if I didn't have a really important reason to stay in this country (my children), I would seriously consider leaving. I don't think Cuba would be at the top of my list.

        Stuff like this is a total sideshow. It's a distraction from the fact that our government can't seem to get anything productive done.

        As long as those in charge of this country (by which I primarily mean Congress and the Senate) spend more time and money bickering with each other and making absolutist "no compromise" stands, noth

    • I dont expect it to be hidden, but i also dont expect LOGGING of everything. Its a terrible road we are going down.
      • by 0123456 (636235)

        I dont expect it to be hidden, but i also dont expect LOGGING of everything. Its a terrible road we are going down.

        Don't worry. The slippery slope is a logical fallacy, so things can't possibly get worse.

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      It has long been held by US courts that the exteriors of letters and other items sent through the mail are not considered private.

      And?

      Do you really think that if you went back in time and asked the founders who wrote the US Constitution whether having the government keep a record of all mail going through their system would be OK under the fourth amendment, they'd say 'Hell, yeah!'?

    • Re:Not a big deal (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MozeeToby (1163751) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @02:43PM (#44180019)

      If I send a letter, I don't expect the outside of the envelope to be private, fair enough. If I drive down the street I don't expect my license plate to be private. If I walk down the street I don't expect that to be a private act. What I do expect to be private is the records of all those actions going back months and years. This isn't just a matter of degree, there is a fundamental difference between any single action being public and a log of every action I've ever performed being private.

    • Now, if they are doing the same for UPS/FedEx/etc, then there might be a slightly larger concern

      Wait, so if the government were tracking all packages going through a private mail company, that would be a cause for concern, but the government tracking all packages sent through a government mail service, that's ok?

      What exactly is the difference? The government system is 'my' system not theirs to do with as they wish.

  • by McGruber (1417641) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @02:18PM (#44179609)
    This XKCD suddenly became topical again: http://xkcd.com/327/ [xkcd.com]
  • by ageoffri (723674) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @02:19PM (#44179641)
    So the USPS can scan and retain a copy of every single item and find it for law enforcement requests, yet they can't put together a decent package tracking system and insist on delivery confirmation.
    • They're merely feigning incompetence. Demonstrating a working package tracking system would be delivering proof that they're tracking everything.
  • The criminal activity requests average 15,000 to 20,000 per year, said law enforcement officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are prohibited by law from discussing the requests.

    Hopefully the officials didn't send a letter, an email, or make a phone call. If they did, their anonymity wasn't good for much. But, hey, that's just metadata and isn't an invasion of privacy that can be used to political ends.

  • What sort of similar surveillance programs are in place at UPS, Fedex and other U.S. couriers?
    • What sort of similar surveillance programs are in place at UPS, Fedex and other U.S. couriers?

      I don't know, but given UPS and FedEx use a computerized tracking system to run their ops I bet they have a lot more information than the USPS. The question is how long do they retain the data and who has access to it?

  • If they used this as a system for tracking mail and not ONLY as a law enforcement tool, I'd be happier. So unless there are cameras at all postal drop locations, you can still spoof and anonymize yourself in useful and various ways, but usually, there is no such need for that. But it does bug me that they could use this technology to improve service but are, instead, using it to collect metadata on the stuff we receive. Now, depending on where something came from, they might know just what's in our plain

  • by PPH (736903)

    People who have had a need for privacy/anonymity have been aware of the USPS role in law enforcement for decades. That they are snapping a photo (probably OCR the addresses straight into a database as well) doesn't surprise me.

    Decades ago, before Al Gore invented the Internet, mail was a primary means of communication. Back then, I used to live in apartment buildings. Most apartment buildings have a central bank of mailboxes. I was surprised to see how many apartment buildings had more boxes than apartmen

  • by Monsuco (998964) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @03:00PM (#44180265) Homepage
    the IRS, which I am legally required to report almost every detail of my private financial life to every year. Whenever we hear about how invasive the NSA or other government snooping programs are, I instinctively compare them to the IRS and most of them pale by comparison.

    The NSA logs who I call, but not the contents. They log who I email, but not the contents (or so they say). The Post Office logs who I am sending and receiving packages from but not the contents (aside from making sure they don't give off radiation or appear hazardous). The NSA still requires a warrant issued by a FISA Court to actually look at any one individual or to tap communications if they believe it involves an American. Their data mining programs mostly just look for patterns. It's also not clear about whether or not the NSA looks at much data concerning Americans since it appears as though their primary goal was to monitor foreign communications that were routed through equipment in the USA.

    By comparison, the IRS demands that I log everything I do financially and turn it over to them. If I make any mistakes, I can be prosecuted and potentially jailed for it. If the NSA misses a call I make, nobody is the wiser. If I forget that I'm no longer able to make a certain deduction, I face harsh penalties.

    The NSA's generally pretty tight and there haven't been all that many cases of clear illegality. A lot of what the NSA does and how the FISA courts actually work is in a grey area, so I don't know what to think. By contrast, the IRS has frequently been at the center of many scandals.

    Income taxes were legalized by the 16th amendment in 1913. Up until then, we didn't have Federal income taxes save for a couple of brief periods such as during the Civil War. During the 30's the first huge IRS scandal broke. The IRS was allegedly used by FDR's administration to harass political opponents. Most notably, Andrew Mellon, Treasury Secretary under the Harding, Coolidge and Hoover Administrations, was subject to baseless tax investigations. Senator Huey Long, a potential challenge from the left of FDR, also faced harassment. JFK and LBJ allegedly also had an IRS that liked to target political critics like the John Birch Society. Article 2 Section 1 of the articles of impeachment of Richard Nixon accused Nixon of having the IRS investigate people on his "enemies list". While Clinton was in office, a few conservative outfits like the Heritage Foundation allegedly faced "unusual" audits, though true hard evidence of wrongdoing never surfaced. Similar story with Bush. Several liberal outfits claimed Bush's IRS was pestering them, though the IRS actually appears to have audited more right leaning organizations than left leaning ones. Now we get to Obama's huge spat over the IRS. The IRS has admitted to clear discrimination against conservative groups, effectively squashing the Tea Party's activities throughout most of the 2014 election cycle. The IRS is also alleged to have turned over confidential donor information from an organization opposed to gay marriage to one supporting gay marriage so that gay marriage proponents could harass their opponents. A Supreme Court case during the civil rights era in which Alabama demanded the NAACP's donors so that they could be harassed clearly shows the IRS' behavior was illegal. How involved (if at all) the President and his staff are in all of this remains to be seen, but it is clear, given it's history, that if there's any government agency to be worried about, it's the IRS and not the NSA or Post Office.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I ordered some legal products from a person who were busted selling illegal products.

    Vendors do not use new addresses for every single piece of mail that goes out because the addresses have to be legit. They have OCR software running on the photos being taken.

    For months after that, my mail was regularly opened. I complained repeatedly but my USPS, UPS, and Fedex packages were all pilfered. Nothing was ever taken. Most notably was a laptop case I ordered that was completely and obviously removed from the pac

  • I'm not surprised... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mendax (114116) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @03:05PM (#44180339)

    I write a lot of snail mail. I correspond with people in jails and prisons which usually requires me to use snail mail. Furthermore, I've maintained a long correspondence with a friend. I have his e-mail address and his phone number but we choose to keep our communication limited mostly to paper letters, usually written by hand. I write mine with a fountain pen!

    When I learned of the NSA's snooping I was comforted somewhat by the fact that my most private confidential communications goes through the U.S. Postal Service and is not subject to this. Well, I guess not! The supermarket (and the bank) knows what I buy when I use a credit card to pay for it. The various cities and states know where I drive because of cameras. The cops now are installing license plate recognition cameras to record license numbers. Facial recognition software makes it difficult for me to go anywhere anonymously even on foot. Verizon Wireless knows where I am because I keep my phone on most of the time. I'm waiting to have an RFID tag implanted in my forehead!
    Pretty soon we're going to be living in a country like the old DDR (that's East Germany to those too young to remember the Cold War) and a spying apparatus like its Stasi. Watch "Das Leben der Altern" (The Lives of Others), a German film of a few years ago to give you an idea of just how invasive this spying became. And this movie is set in 1984. It's much easier now!

  • Busy, busy, busy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ThatsNotPudding (1045640) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @03:08PM (#44180393)
    So not only do I have to add Fuck You, NSA to my email, now I have to start writing on my envelopes!

    If the USPS was smart, they'd sell stamps that say exactly this; they'd be in the black by Christmas.
  • I guess we need to send our letters in holographic envelopes that can only be read at an angle. Straight on, it just looks blank... or maybe a big finger. And that's probably what the camera will record.

  • Logging snails makes me think about something altogether different from NSA spying.

    It makes me think of someone bashing snails with a log.

    Which might be too different from the truth.

  • We recently had the federal Internal Revenue Service targeting political groups and their supporters because the administration didn't like their politics. Have they exploited this USPS data collection system? Just by looking at snail mail "metadata" they could identify members and supporters of all sorts of nefarious groups such as the National Rifle Association, or if the balance of power shifts, Planned Parenthood and the like.

    Now citizen, obey the executive branch or we'll send the IRS after you. Wit

  • From the Fucking Summary

    The number of requests for antiterrorism mail covers has not been made public.

    That number is 160 billion

  • by onyxruby (118189) <onyxrubyNO@SPAMcomcast.net> on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @03:34PM (#44180719)

    People have been clamoring for tracking of the postal service for decades? Who hasn't wanted some type of tracking for things sent through the post office like they get through Fedex or UPS? As long as they aren't opening the envelopes who cares? This is the literal equivalent to looking at the headers of packets sent over the Internet, meh....

    As for tracking of things that are not sent through third party systems, such as people and cars on public streets that is an entirely different story. People forget that computers allow us to automate the absurd and otherwise unthinkable. Nobody has a problem with the policeman in the patrol car looking up a license plate of a passing car. Put that same system in a camera that automatically checks all plates and all of a sudden you have all kinds of implications. What was once absurd is now simply a matter of budget.

  • by triffid_98 (899609) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @03:43PM (#44180825)
    Finally, an explanation for why they invariably have one or two lonely clerks at the front desk but at least 6 more milling around the back-room.

    Now if someone could just explain why the same thing happens at the DMV.
  • by almechist (1366403) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:30PM (#44182913)

    If this is legal, and it seems everyone is saying that it is, then why stop at criminal investigations? Think about it, this kind of data is a treasure trove of valuable commercial information. With this data they can determine who writes to who and how often, where a given person shops by mail order and sometimes exactly what they're buying, which utilities are billing us, what offers we respond to, it's likely even one's political leanings could be deduced given a deep enough study of the data. The postal service could solve all their financial woes if they just decided to market this stuff, it's a gold mine! And who could possibly object? It's just metadata, after all, stuff that's right there in plain sight, perfectly legal to examine. All kinds of possibilities open up, as we blindly skip on down that old proverbial slippery slope...

    And that's the problem with allowing this type of data collection. The outside of each individual piece of mail might seem harmless enough, but put it all together in a searchable database, one that's cross-linked to other, similar databases, and voila! All kinds of information that was previously assumed to be private suddenly becomes easily available. We really do need legislation on when and how these types of databases can be used, and by whom. The law enforcement aspect is just the beginning, people need to realize just how much private information is hidden in, and easily retrievable from, these big aggregations of "public" data. The ability to run highly refined computer searches on a dataset changes all the presumptions about what is and what isn't private. If we don't put some limits on this type of data collection soon, privacy as we have traditionally known it will be a thing of the past. Perhaps it already is.

    • I think the false sense of privacy is the real problem. We shouldn't be relying on the government to ignore the information it has access to. There is no privacy for things given to the government. We shouldn't have an expectation of privacy.

      We should use private couriers who promise privacy for anything that needs to be private. And we should sue these companies when breaches of privacy come to light, as well as not financially supporting those couriers with bad track records with our business.

      For priv

What the scientists have in their briefcases is terrifying. -- Nikita Khruschev

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