A spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) revealed recently that more than 800,000 employees of the government-owned postal monopoly had “names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, addresses, beginning and end dates of employment, [and] emergency contact information” exposed in a massive online data breach.
The USPS statement claims that customer data was also subject to the disclosure. In response, the agency is offering free credit monitoring to any customer whose data may have been illegally obtained in the incident.
Although there is no information on who may have perpetrated the breach, a story in the Washington Post reports that “some analysts say that targeting a federal agency such as the post office makes sense for China as an espionage tool.”
While such data breaches are lamentable, it is a bit ironic that an agency that has been carrying out an extensive secret surveillance operation for years would be so vigorous in its vendetta against the alleged hackers who exposed sensitive data of employees and customers.
An article published on October 28 in the New York Times reports on the USPS’s unconstitutional monitoring of the mail. The Times writes:
In a rare public accounting of its mass surveillance program, the United States Postal Service reported that it approved nearly 50,000 requests last year from law enforcement agencies and its own internal inspection unit to secretly monitor the mail of Americans for use in criminal and national security investigations.
The number of requests, contained in a 2014 audit of the surveillance program by the Postal Service’s inspector general, shows that the surveillance program is more extensive than previously disclosed and that oversight protecting Americans from potential abuses is lax.
The Times previously reported on the scope of this snail mail surveillance in an article published in July 2013.
The piece tells the story of Buffalo, New York, resident Leslie James Pickering. Pickering reports that in September 2012 he noticed “something odd in his mail:” 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,” the Times story claims.
The card — a picture of which appears in the Times story — appears to read: “Show all mail to supv” — supervisor — “for copying prior to going out on the street.” Pickering’s name was written on the card, as well as the word “Confidential,” written in green ink. Apparently, Pickering was the unwitting target of a “longtime surveillance system” the Times calls “mail covers.”
The Times story published October 28, 2014 reports that the mail covers program:
is more than a century old, but is still considered a powerful investigative tool. At the request of state or federal law enforcement agencies or the Postal Inspection Service, postal workers record names, return addresses and any other information from the outside of letters and packages before they are delivered to a person’s home.
Law enforcement officials say this deceptively old-fashioned method of collecting data provides a wealth of information about the businesses and associates of their targets, and can lead to bank and property records and even accomplices.
The mail covers operation isn’t the whole story, however.