(NaturalNews) Nearly lost in all of the news coverage about the NSA spying on Americans' electronic communications is the fact that the government has, for years, been spying on our snail mail as well.
The New York Times reported shortly before Independence Day that this low-tech spying is taking place via the U.S. Postal Service - the government mail monopoly established solely for the purpose of advancing our ability to communicate, both at home and abroad. Now, however, Americans have learned that the USPS - which is teetering on bankruptcy, by the way - is also another of the government's internal spy apparatuses, as one unfortunate American found out recently. Per the Times:
Leslie James Pickering noticed something odd in his mail last September: a handwritten card, apparently delivered by mistake, with instructions for postal workers to pay special attention to the letters and packages sent to his home.
"Show all mail to supv" - supervisor - "for copying prior to going out on the street," read the card. It included Mr. Pickering's name, address and the type of mail that needed to be monitored. The word "confidential" was highlighted in green.
"It was a shock to see it," Pickering - owner of a small bookstore in Buffalo, N.Y., told the paper.
More blanket spying on U.S. citizens
At first blush, it may not be so difficult to understand why the government is intercepting Pickering's mail. In a former life he was a spokesman for the Earth Liberation Front, "a radical environmental group labeled eco-terrorists by the Federal Bureau of Investigation," the Times said (without mentioning, of course, that the ELF is a radical left-wing organization - an oversight the paper most definitely would not have made had the group been extremely right-wing, but I digress).
Pickering was targeted by an institutionalized USPS surveillance program known as mail covers, part of a much broader spying effort called Mail Isolation Control and Tracking - a process by which the USPS uses computers to photograph every piece of mail processed in the U.S., which amounted to nearly 160 billion pieces of mail last year. Mail covering, the paper said, is more than 100 years old.
But while Pickering has a past history with a truly radical leftist organization - the ELF has committed acts of domestic terrorism, including burning a Colorado ski resort in 1998 and several multimillion dollar homes in Seattle in 2007 - the fact is the USPS is utilizing the mail cover program in a blanket fashion like the NSA uses its tools to monitor all electronic communications.
"In the past, mail covers were used when you had a reason to suspect someone of a crime," Mark D. Rasch, who has worked on a number of fraud cases in the Justice Department using mail covers, told the Times. "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."
Others agree that the blanket surveillance is a major threat to privacy, including computer security expert and author Bruce Schneier. He says it doesn't matter if the NSA is eavesdropping electronically or if a postal worker is manually capturing the image of your letter, it is still a violation of the Fourth Amendment's privacy protections.
'You just fill out a form'
"Basically they are doing the same thing as the other programs, collecting the information on the outside of your mail, the metadata, if you will, of names, addresses, return addresses and postmark locations, which gives the government a pretty good map of your contacts, even if they aren't reading the contents," Schneier told the paper.
Of course, American law enforcement - which is becoming comfortable with such blanket spying programs - says the mail cover surveillance is an important and valuable crime prevention tool. More and more, the idea that you are innocent of any crime until proven guilty is being swept away by the massive and growing Surveillance State.
"It's a treasure trove of information," James J. Wedick, a former FBI agent who spent 34 years at the agency and said he used mail covers on many occasions, told the paper. "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 added: ""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."