The United States Postal Services has been quietly monitoring Americans’ social media posts, including posts about planned protests. At least some of that specifically targeted “right-leaning accounts.”
The surveillance program, known as the Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP), centers around hired analysts who review social media accounts for “inflammatory” posts to share across government agencies, Yahoo News reported.
“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,” read a March 16 government bulletin, marked as “law enforcement sensitive” and forwarded to the Department of Homeland security. “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.”
The concern intensified when rumors spread that groups would gather in cities across the world to protest various issues like lockdown measures and the rise of 5G.
“Parler users have commented about their intent to use the rallies to engage in violence. Image 3 on the right is a screenshot from Parler indicating two users discussing the event as an opportunity to engage in a ‘fight’ and to ‘do serious damage,’” the bulletin said.
“No intelligence is available to suggest the legitimacy of these threats,” it further noted.
The iCOP bulletin included screenshots of social media posts from Facebook, Twitter, and Parler. An alleged Proud Boy was mentioned by name, as well as several individuals whose posts did not appear threatening.
“iCOP analysts are currently monitoring these social media channels for any potential threats stemming from the scheduled protests and will disseminate intelligence updates as needed,” the bulletin concluded.
Legal scholars were concerned about the constitutional impacts of the program.
“If the individuals they’re monitoring are carrying out or planning criminal activity, that should be the purview of the FBI,” said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, Deputy Director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program. “If they’re simply engaging in lawfully protected speech, even if it’s odious or objectionable, then monitoring them on that basis raises serious constitutional concerns.”
Meanwhile, the USPS defended the program.
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is the primary law enforcement, crime prevention, and security arm of the U.S. Postal Service,” a statement toYahoo News said. “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.”
“The Internet Covert Operations Program is a function within the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which assesses threats to Postal Service employees and its infrastructure by monitoring publicly available open source information,” the statement added.
The postal service declined to discuss the “protocols, investigative methods, or tools” at use.