A new report says the U.S. Postal Service has run a secret surveillance program targeting protestors on social media, and its reasons have no apparent connection to delivering the mail.
Reporting for Yahoo News, longtime investigative journalist Jana Winter uncovered a document from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service describing an “Internet Covert Operations Program.” The program’s purpose has been to monitor social media for potential security threats and share information with other agencies, and it appears to have targeted right-wing conspiracy groups in particular.
In a bulletin posted by Winter, the agency describes “inflammatory material” circulating on Telegram and the right-wing social media platform Parler, warning that “potential violence may occur” during protests on March 20. As The Washington Post reported, members of QAnon conspiracy groups had been promoting a “World Wide Rally For Freedom” to protest pandemic restrictions on that date.
The postal service bulletin said the agency was “monitoring these social media channels for any potential threats stemming from the scheduled protests and will disseminate intelligence updates as needed.”
While the FBI and other law enforcement groups have a long history of using social media as a surveillance tool, it’s unclear why the Postal Service is doing the same, especially for activity that doesn’t seem to involve the postal system.
But as The Washington Post notes (per Gizmodo), the U.S. Postal Inspection Service is actually the country’s first federal law enforcement agency, having been established in 1775, and it enjoys broad authority to investigate crimes, even when they’re only tangentially related to the mail. Last year, for instance, the agency was involved in arresting Steve Bannon for allegedly funneling money from a fraudulent border wall crowdfunding campaign.
In this case, the Postal Service didn’t deny Winter’s reporting, sending her a statement suggesting that social media surveillance is just part of its job to make the mail run smoothly.
“The Internet Covert Operations Program is a function within the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which assesses threats to Postal Service employees and its infrastructure by monitoring publicly available open source information,” the statement said.