Rumor: USPS photographs outside of letters before delivery

Is the Postal Service tracking every piece of mail?

The government tracks snail mail, too, to the tune of 160 billion pieces last year alone under the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program.

TRUE: The New York Times confirmed it via law enforcement sources, though the Postal Service wouldn't talk about it

If all of the revelations about the federal government's high-tech spying on American citizens have you thinking about going old school through the U.S. Postal Service, forget it: The postal service uses computers to "photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year," The New York Times reports, thanks to the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program set up after the 2001 anthrax attacks.

A second postal service program that monitors only certain people's mail is "more than a century old but is still considered a powerful tool."

"Together, the two programs show that postal mail is subject to the same kind of scrutiny that the National Security Agency has given to telephone calls and e-mail," the Times reports.

What it's like to be spied on

The Times highlighted a bookstore owner, Leslie James Pickering, who confirmed on his Facebook page that he figured something was up when he found this handwritten note in his mailbox that was "apparently left there by accident." Labeled "Mail Watch" and "confidential," it says that all mail going to his address between Aug. 16, 2012, and Sept. 14, 2012, must be turned over to a supervisor for copying before delivery. He was being watched as part of the postal service's "mail covers program," which monitors certain people's mail upon request of law enforcement.

When Pickering took a plane trip the following March, his ticket was marked "SSSS," meaning he needed secondary security screening.

"I've never before had trouble flying," wrote Pickering, who runs Burning Books in Buffalo, N.Y., which specializes in radical history. More than a decade ago, he stopped serving as a spokesman for the radical group Earth Liberation Front but, according to Buffalo News and ArtVoice, federal authorities are keeping a close watch on him. He is fighting back — he filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the Buffalo News reports, to find out how the FBI is watching him and when it'll stop.

“It’s a treasure trove of information,” former FBI agent James J. Wedic told the Times about the mail covers program. But he said: “It can be easily abused because it’s so easy to use and you don’t have to go through a judge to get the information. You just fill out a form.”

News about the postal service tracking your snail mail

 

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