State Spying Expands Beyond the Internet and Phone Network

When Edward Snowden provided proof that the National Security Agency (NSA) was spying on Americans some people began to blame technology. They said such rampant spying wasn’t possible before the advent of the Internet. What was even more foolish were the claims that old forms of communications, namely the postal service, were far safer than online communications. As it turns out the United States Postal Service (USPS) has been recording every letter sent through its system:

WASHINGTON — 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 bit of a shock to see it,” said Mr. Pickering, who with his wife owns a small bookstore in Buffalo. More than a decade ago, he was a spokesman for the Earth Liberation Front, a radical environmental group labeled eco-terrorists by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Postal officials subsequently confirmed they were indeed tracking Mr. Pickering’s mail but told him nothing else.

As the world focuses on the high-tech spying of the National Security Agency, the misplaced card offers a rare glimpse inside the seemingly low-tech but prevalent snooping of the United States Postal Service.

Mr. Pickering was targeted by a longtime surveillance system called mail covers, a forerunner of a vastly more expansive effort, the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program, in which Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year. It is not known how long the government saves the images.

Internet services can be taken overseas to jurisdictions outside of the NSA’s direct control but letters can only be legally sent in the United States through the USPS. This monopoly on first class mail makes the postal system even more vulnerable than Internet services in my opinion.

In the end this story proves that there’s no safe avenue for communications in the United States. Every channel is being observed by the state and we must always assume anything we send is being intercepted and recorded. Encrypt your shit people.