US Postal Inspection Service covert monitoring, data sharing

Occurred: May 2021

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Yahoo! News reports that the US Postal Inspection Service (USP IS) has been running a secret programme tracking social media users, including racial justice protestors, and creating fake identities. 

According to Yahoo!, USP IS' Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP) is using social media monitoring software to identity and track investigation targets, and is sharing information with law enforcement agencies. 

The report also alleges that iCOP analysts began monitoring social media to track potential violence at racial justice protests following the death of George Floyd.

The programme is also said to enable USP IS staff to assume fake identities online and employ facial recognition software, including Clearview AI's facial recognition system.

USP IS in the dock

In August 2021, privacy group EPIC filed a lawsuit against the US Postal Service to block the use of facial recognition and social media monitoring tools under iCOP. 

The lawsuit was later dismissed on the basis that EPIC did not suffer a 'cognizable injury in fact' from the Service’s unlawful refusal to disclose information about the programme.

A US Inspector General audit (pdf) of the iCOP programme concluded in March 2022 that the USP IS did not have the legal authority to conduct the sweeping intelligence collection and surveillance of American protesters and others between 2018 and 2021. 

Operator: US Postal Inspection Service (USP IS)
Developer: Clearview AI; Zignal Labs; Nfusion
Country: USA
Sector: Govt - postal
Purpose: Identify crime suspects; Identify protestors
Technology: Facial recognition; Social media monitoring
Issue: Privacy; Surveillance
Transparency: Governance; Privacy


Legal, regulatory

Investigations, assessments, audits

News, commentary, analysis

Page info
Type: Incident
Published: May 2021
Last updated: March 2022