MADISON — As the U.S. Postal Service pleads poverty, it apparently has enough money to run a spying operation on Americans.
U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Glenbeulah) last week joined more than two dozen Republican lawmakers in a letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy demanding a briefing on the Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP).
The law enforcement arm of USPS “has been quietly running a program that tracks and collects Americans social media posts, including those about planned protests,” according to a document obtained by Yahoo News.
Grothman said the U.S. Constitution makes no provision allowing the USPS the power to spend government resources spying on law-abiding citizens.
“The perennial statement from the USPS is that they are running out of money. Yet, they have reportedly somehow found enough extra cash to spy on Americans’ social media accounts through the Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP).,” Grothman said. “Not only is this, I believe, outside of the purview of the USPS, but the agency has reportedly used this program to disproportionately monitor right-leaning social media platforms.”
If that is indeed the case, Grothman said, “the heads of those responsible must roll.”
As Yahoo News reported, the iCOP mission involves analysts scouring social media sites to look for “inflammatory” postings.
“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,” states the March 16 government bulletin, marked as “law enforcement sensitive” and distributed through the Department of Homeland Security’s fusion centers. “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.”
“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,” House Committee on Oversight and Reform Ranking Member James Comer (R-Ky.) and House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), along with 30 Republican lawmakers, wrote in the letter to DeJoy.
“The type of general review of social media alleged in the reporting does not indicate that the posts reviewed by iCOP are related to the protection and security of USPS, its postal routes, its employees, or the mail generally.”
Geoffrey Stone of the University of Chicago Law School, who reviewed the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection following the Edward Snowden leaks, told Yahoo News that he doesn’t understand why the government would go to the Postal Service for security analysis.
It’s especially puzzling it would turn to an independent federal agency that has lost $87 billion over the past 14 fiscal years — including $9.2 billion in fiscal year 2020, according to the Government Accountability Office. USPS is anticipating losing $9.7 billion in fiscal year 2021.