The Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program
By Julia Clark
The New York times reported about a longtime surveillance system called mail covers a precursor to the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program. The Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program photographs the exterior of all paper mail in the United States — roughly 160 billion parcels in 2012. It is not known how long the government saves the images.
The mail covers program is over 100 years in operations. It is a potent tool for catching bad guys. And is a significant part of mail fraud investigations. Mail fraud is one of the stronger tools in the fraud investigators tool bag. Reading the contents of the mail requires a warrant, but at the request of law enforcement the information on the outside of parcels are recorded by postal workers. It is unknown if the postal service is compensated for such time expenditures.
The Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program began 2001. Extremely secret, it allows the Postal Service to retrospectively track mail. No one disputes that it is indiscriminate.
“In the past, mail covers were used when you had a reason to suspect someone of a crime,” said Mark D. Rasch, the former director of the Justice Department’s computer crime unit, who worked on several fraud cases using mail covers. “Now it seems to be ‘Let’s record everyone’s mail so in the future we might go back and see who you were communicating with.’ Essentially you’ve added mail covers on millions of Americans.”
“It’s a treasure trove of information,” said James J. Wedick, a former F.B.I. agent who spent 34 years at the agency and who said he used mail covers in a number of investigations, including one that led to prosecution of several elected officials in California on corruption charges. “Looking at just the outside of letters and other mail, I can see who you bank with, who you communicate with — all kinds of useful information that gives investigators leads that they can then follow-up on with a subpoena.”
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.”
For mail cover requests law enforcement agencies gives a letter to the Postal Service. It is the postal services discretion to grant or deny a request. There is no judicial review. The Postal Service rarely denies a request. Requests are granted for about 30 days and can be extended to 120 days.
There are two kinds of mail covers: criminal activity and national security. Criminal activity requests average 15,000 to 20,000 per year. The number of requests for national security mail covers is not public.
President George W. Bush declared in 2007 that the federal government has dominance to open mail without warrants in emergencies or in foreign intelligence cases.
Court challenges to mail covers have failed because judges ruled there is no reasonable expectation of privacy for information contained on the outside of a letter.
Officials in both the Bush and Obama administrations, in fact, have used the mail-cover court rulings to justify the N.S.A.’s surveillance programs, saying the electronic monitoring amounts to the same thing as a mail cover.
Congress briefly conducted hearings on mail cover programs in 1976, but has not revisited the issue.
The program has led to sporadic reports of abuse.
Mary Rose Wilcox, a Maricopa County supervisor in Arizona by Sheriff Joe Arpaio
the Church Committee, a Senate panel that documented C.I.A. Abuses.
Postal officials refused to discuss either mail covers or the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program.
Source : U.S. Postal Service Logging All Mail for Law Enforcement July 3, 2013; RonNixon; http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/04/us/monitoring-of-snail-mail.html
- Big Brother isn’t just reading your emails… (theblaze.com)
- U.S. Postal Service Is Logging All Mail For Law Enforcement (outsidethebeltway.com)