The US Postal Inspection Service, law enforcement arm of the US Postal Service, is under scrutiny by congressional lawmakers, after reports surfaced alleging that a group within the Inspection Service has been quietly monitoring American citizen’s social media accounts and activity.
The group in question is called the Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP). According to a bulletin, iCOP has been monitoring and recording social media activity, which has included Parler and Telegram. Additionally, it is claimed that the group has been recording protest data, event coordination and other information from “right-wing leaning” platforms.
The surveillance activity has not been made public until now. The work includes analysts moving through social networks, looking for “inflammatory” postings, shares and likes. The data gathered is then shared with other governmental agencies.
The bulletin dated March 20, 2021 says, “Analysts with the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP) monitored significant activity regarding planned protests occurring internationally and domestically on March 20, 2021.”
The bulletin went on to say, “Locations and times have been identified for these protests, which are being distributed online across multiple social media platforms, to include right-wing leaning Parler and Telegram accounts.”
Responding to these reports, 30 GOP lawmakers, along with House Oversight Ranking Member James Comer (R-KY) and House Judiciary Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-OH) signed a letter to the Post Master General saying, “If the reporting is accurate, iCOP raises serious questions about the federal government’s ongoing surveillance of, and encroachment upon, Americans’ private lives and discourse.”
The letter went on to say, “The type of amorphous, broad mandate under which iCOP is allegedly operating is particularly troubling because it is unclear why the USPS, of all government agencies and the only one devoted to the delivery of Americans’ mail, is taking on the role of intelligence collection.”
Lawmakers are expecting a briefing from the Chief Postal Inspector, Gary Barksdale, by April 28th.
A spokesperson for the USPS said, “The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is the primary law enforcement, crime prevention, and security arm of the U.S. Postal Service. As such, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service has federal law enforcement officers, Postal Inspectors, who enforce approximately 200 federal laws to achieve the agency’s mission: protect the U.S. Postal Service and its employees, infrastructure, and customers; enforce the laws that defend the nation’s mail system from illegal or dangerous use; and ensure public trust in the mail.”