USPS Approves Thousands of Mail Info Requests a Year From Law Enforcement, Report Says

USPS Approves Thousands of Mail Info Requests a Year From Law Enforcement, Report Says

( – Over the years, many Americans have accused the federal government of spying on them without first obtaining the necessary legal authorizations. First, people accused the feds of monitoring their cell phones by reportedly buying data and spying on app usage through push notifications. Now, a new report has allegedly shown that the government is seizing mail without judicial approval.

USPS Approves Most Requests

Between 2015 and 2023, The Washington Post reported that the USPS received more than 60,000 requests from various state and federal law enforcement agencies. In those cases, the postal service approved the requests 97% of the time. That means the USPS reportedly shared the details of more than 300,000 pieces of mail, including letters and packages, without requiring a judge’s order.

The USPS postal inspectors, part of the agency’s law enforcement arm, say they only approve the requests to aid in criminal investigations or locate fugitives. Yet, the service reportedly denied very few of the requests.

Law enforcement has the right to request several days or weeks of mail under the Mail Covers program, a legal practice in the US. The postal inspectors can only share the outside of the package or envelope; if authorities need a peek at what’s inside, they must obtain a search warrant.

The postal inspectors typically don’t reveal how often law enforcement agencies ask them to provide details about a person’s mail. They say that providing that information could tip off criminals regarding law enforcement investigative techniques and negatively affect the program’s effectiveness. However, during a 2015 audit, the USPS revealed the FBI, IRS, and Department of Homeland Security ranked among the top requesters.

Lawmakers Seek Information

In 2023, a group of bipartisan lawmakers, including Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Rand Paul (R-KY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Edward Markey (R-UT), wrote to the Chief Postal Inspector to ask the agency to change its policies. The lawmakers wanted the USPS to require a federal judge to sign off on any requests for such information.

They believed the policy change would “protect Americans from unchecked government monitoring that threatens both [their] privacy and First Amendment rights.” They also asked the agency to share more information on the program and its functionality.

While the USPS denied it was a “large-scale” program, Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale initially refused to share data in his June 2023 response. However, last month, he released eight years’ worth of data showing an average of 6,700 annual requests. He also told Congress the agency wouldn’t change its policy.

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