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USPS Logs Mail for FBI, and It's Legal

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Although it may surprise you, the U.S. Postal Service is logging your mail and sharing it with federal law enforcement. And the practice is completely legal.

Surprise might be an understatement for what New Yorker Leslie Pickering was feeling last September, when he opened his mail to find a handwritten card instructing postal workers to copy the exterior of his mail before it reached him, reports The New York Times.

The post office could be doing the same with your mail, and the law is on their side.

Photographing Mail as It's Processed

The USPS did confirm that they were tracking Pickering's mail, but declined to explain why. It could be because Pickering is the ex-spokesman for a radical environmental group that was deemed an "eco-terrorist" group by the FBI, reports The New York Times.

Though Pickering stepped away from that role more than a decade ago, it may help to explain why he and many others have their mail tracked and photographed, without a warrant, under the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking (MICT) program.

The secret government program was revealed in a federal criminal complaint, in which an FBI source expounded on MICT's ability to "photograph and capture an image of every mail piece," reports The Smoking Gun.

To be clear, MICT doesn't read the content of the letters, but it does make a photo and data record of the exteriors of thousands of letters, packages, and parcels that pass through USPS facilities, reports the Times.

Critics might compare this program to prior FBI or National Security Agency surveillance of phone and internet records -- warrantless searches which were justified under Patriot Act-era laws and a fairly loose standard of proof.

Because MICT only looks at the outside of letters, which are publicly viewable, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy that is being violated by MICT collecting a backlog of millions of letter exteriors.

The U.S. Supreme Court has used similar reasoning to explain why the police are free to go through your trash set out on the curb without a warrant or probable cause.

Despite fears about privacy or constitutional violations, the MICT program is by all accounts still in operation, and will continue to be until political or legal forces move against it.

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