Yes, it is the Fourth of July, that glorious day where we Americans celebrate our history – honoring the day in 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed and passed by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
But, no, I don’t feel very proud today of being an American. Why not, you ask, as you bundle up your family, hot dogs, beach umbrellas and head out for your own family’s festivities.
It now turns out that our own Postal Service has been spying on our mail for years. About 160 billion postcards, packages – and yes, envelopes were photographed by the good ol’ US Postal Service last year.
This is all part of … drum roll please … because you probably have never heard of this before … the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program. Under this nefarious program Post Office computers take photos of the exterior of every piece of mail – snailmail we’re talking her – that Americans mail out and which goes through our postal system.
The The New York Times reports that the postal mail is being subjected to similar surveillance to our phone calls and emails by the National Security Agency. CBS picked up the story, using this headline: Report: Postal Service uses “spying” programs similar to NSA.
We’re told ‘nobody’s opening your mail’, which is similar to President Obama’s assurance that ‘nobody’s listening to your calls’.
Plus we’re told letters and packages cannot be opened without a warrant. The tracking program reportedly only collects images of the outsides.
A former F.B.I. agent who spent 34 years at the agency, James J. Wedick, told the Times:
“Looking at just the outside of letters and other mail, I can see who you bank with, who you communicate with — all kinds of useful information that gives investigators leads that they can then follow up on with a subpoena.”
The New York Times reports that tens of thousands of pieces of mail each year are screened through the mail covers program.
Even without opening the mail, officials can obtain valuable information this way — information that many would consider an invasion of privacy. Computer security expert Bruce Schneier tells The Times that the program can track “names, addresses, return addresses and postmark locations, which gives the government a pretty good map of your contacts, even if they aren’t reading the contents.”
Law enforcement officials claim these programs are essential to national security.
No, I don’t feel very proud today, what with our government pressuring other countries not to give NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden a home due to all his disclosures of our government’s surveillance programs – programs that go back to the dark days of the Bush administration.
I will feel better I hope after I attend a rally today called “Restore the Fourth” – meaning restore the 4th Amendment – which has been fairly trashed of late ; it’s in Balboa Park at the Fountain at 11 a.m. today – the glorious Fourth of July.