From the New York Times last week:
U.S. Postal Service Logging All Mail for Law Enforcement
…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…
…postal workers record information from the outside of letters and parcels before they are delivered. (Opening the mail would require a warrant.) … It enables the Postal Service to retrace the path of mail at the request of law enforcement. No one disputes that it is sweeping.
“In the past, mail covers were used when [ed: ordered after] you had a reason to suspect someone of a crime,” said Mark D. Rasch, who started a computer crimes unit in the fraud section of the criminal division of the Justice Department and worked on several fraud cases using mail covers. “Now it seems to be, ‘Let’s record everyone’s mail so in the future we might go back and see who you were communicating with.’ Essentially you’ve added mail covers on millions of Americans.”
So, pro or con? A reasonable trade-off of privacy for security, or another example of America Gone Horribly Wrong?
I lean to the latter view. As the NSA surveillance revelations hit, I said:
Can you imagine one of the Framers [of the Constitution] saying the following? “Having the Post Office collect data for the President on every letter that every person sends isn’t unconstitutional because the Fourth Amendment only protects the content of letters and not information on the sender and recipient, the weight of the letters (or number of pages), etc.” – I can’t.
Having said that, I do have a tad more confidence that the Post Office isn’t illegally opening and reading letters, than I do that the NSA somehow isn’t illegally reading/listening to any e-mails and phone calls they feel like.
UPDATE: From Bruce’s Twitter stream, more in the “America Gone Wrong” category: