The U.S. Postal Service has been doing more than delivering bills and raking in federal bailout money. According to Yahoo’s Jana Winter, the USPS is also getting heavily involved in monitoring people’s online activity:

The post office’s law enforcement arm has faced intense congressional scrutiny in recent weeks over its Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP), which tracks social media posts of Americans and shares that information with other law enforcement agencies. Yet the program is much broader in scope than previously known and includes analysts who assume fake identities online, use sophisticated intelligence tools and employ facial recognition software, according to interviews and documents reviewed by Yahoo News.

Among the tools used by the analysts is Clearview AI, a facial recognition software that scrapes images off public websites, a practice that has raised the ire of privacy advocates. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service uses Clearview’s facial recognition database of over 3 billion images “to help identify unknown targets in an investigation or locate additional social media accounts for known individuals”…

Why is the Post Office pouring substantial resources into a covert monitoring program? Civil liberties groups are demanding answers. But the trail seems to lead back to 2018:

…when the U.S. Postal Inspection Service expanded and rebranded its “cybercrime dark web” program into a broader covert operation.

“As the criminal use of the ‘Dark Web’ marketplaces has grown and affected investigative assignments across the agency, we are re-branding the program to encompass all online covert operations beyond ‘Dark Web’ marketplaces to include publicly accessible web sites and private sites,” says an internal description of the change. 

The internal document goes on to state that as of Oct. 28, 2018, iCOP “will be responsible for overseeing all internet undercover operations policies and procedures, managing the identities of undercover operators and administering technology used to facilitate internet undercover operational security. This program will also be responsible for intelligence analysis and reporting related to all covert internet and undercover online investigations.”

There are constitutional concerns about iCOP, as well as institutional problems – like how can a quasi-government agency that’s losing billions of dollars every year find the time and resources to monitor social media?

Time to privatize Post Office, and shut down its would-be James Bonds.