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Press Release Published:Apr 22, 2021

Republican Leaders Demand Answers from USPS Regarding Spying on Americans’ Online Activity

WASHINGTON—Today, 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 U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Postmaster General Louis DeJoy demanding a briefing on the Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP). According to recent reporting, iCOP has been used to spy on American citizens’ internet and social media use, directing analysts to look for inflammatory online postings and to then share them with other government agencies.

“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,” wrote the Republicans. “It is unclear why USPS, of all government agencies and the only one devoted to the delivery of Americans’ mail, is taking on the role of intelligence collection. 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. As Geoffrey Stone of the University of Chicago Law School said, ‘I don’t understand why the government would go to the Postal Service for examining the internet for security issues.’ We agree.”

The letter is available here and below.

April 22, 2021

The Honorable Louis DeJoy
Postmaster General
475 L’Enfant Plaza West, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20260

Dear Postmaster General DeJoy:

Recent reporting indicates the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has been operating “a program that tracks and collects Americans’ social media posts,” known as the Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP). As reported, iCOP is part of the United States Postal Inspection Service, which is the law enforcement and security component of USPS. 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.

According to the reporting, iCOP directs analysts “to trawl through social media sites to look for what [a USPS] document describes as ‘inflammatory’ postings and then sharing that information across government agencies.” Focusing on social media platforms, but apparently with a particular eye towards the “right-wing leaning Parler and Telegram accounts,” iCOP has recorded the locations and times of protests and other events during which Americans exercise their First Amendment liberties. The reporting adds that iCOP has found “[n]o intelligence” to suggest legitimacy to the “threats” on those platforms.

The type of amorphous, broad mandate under which iCOP is allegedly operating is particularly troubling because it is unclear why the USPS, of all government agencies and the only one devoted to the delivery of Americans’ mail, is taking on the role of intelligence collection. 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. As Geoffrey Stone of the University of Chicago Law School said, “I don’t understand why the government would go to the Postal Service for examining the internet for security issues.” We agree.

The United States is not lacking in its availability of intelligence agencies, and it should be left to those professionals to engage in this sort of behavior, if it is even necessary at all. Professor Stone also noted, “[t]here are so many other federal agencies that could do this, I don’t understand why the post office would be doing it. There is no need for the post office to do it — you’ve got FBI, Homeland Security and so on, so I don’t know why the post office is doing this.” Truly, it is baffling why America’s postal service would be involved in this kind of coordinated, intensive review of its citizens’ online activity.

Please arrange to have Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale provide a Member-level briefing no later than 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 28, 2021 regarding this alleged encroachment into the private lives of Americans by a component of our mail delivery agency.

Sincerely,

Oversight Ranking Member James Comer (R-Ky.)
Judiciary Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)
Subcommittee on Government Operations Ranking Member Jody Hice (R-Ga.)
Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.)
Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.)
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.)
Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.)
Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.)
Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.)
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.)
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.)
Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-N.M.)
Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.)
Rep. Fred Keller (R-Pa.)
Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas)
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.)
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas)
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz)
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.)
Rep. Jake LaTurner (R-Kan.)
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.)
Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-Wis.)
Rep. Scott Franklin (R-Fla.)
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.)
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.)
Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.)
Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.)
Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio)
Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.)
Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio)
Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.)
Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah)