US Postal Inspection Service covert monitoring, data sharing
Occurred: May 2021
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
Sector: Govt - postal
Purpose: Identify crime suspects; Identify protestors
Technology: Facial recognition; Social media monitoring
Issue: Privacy; Surveillance
Transparency: Governance; Privacy
United States Postal Inspection Service - Internet Covery Operations Program Wikipedia profile
EPIC (2022). Postal Service Surveillance Program Targeted in EPIC Lawsuit ‘Exceeded’ Legal Authority, Inspector General Finds
US District Court for the District of Colombia (2022). Opinion (pdf)
EPIC (2022). Court Won’t Hear Merits of EPIC Suit Challenging Secret Postal Service Surveillance Program
EPIC (2021). EPIC vs U.S. Postal Service
EPIC (2021). EPIC Sues Postal Service to Halt Use of Facial Recognition, Social Media Monitoring
Investigations, assessments, audits
US Office of Inspector General (2022). U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Online Analytical Support Activities
Yahoo News (2022). Inspector general says post office surveillance program exceeded legal authority
Yahoo! News (2021). Facial recognition, fake identities and digital surveillance tools: Inside the post office's covert internet operations program
News, commentary, analysis
Published: May 2021
Last updated: March 2022