Published on: Wednesday, April 27, 2022

A U.S. Postal Service law enforcement program that has monitored social media for references to protests pushes the limits of the agency’s authority, raising questions about the future of these surveillance activities (article available here).

Tracking by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s online investigative program has coincided with Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 and the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol in 2021, according to government reports.

The Postal Inspection Service used Clearview AI’s facial recognition technology to help identify individuals suspected of criminal activity that took place in the summer of 2020 during a period of “civil unrest, riots, or protests,” according to a separate review by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. This time period coincided with nationwide Black Lives Matter demonstrations over racial bias in policing and police violence.

In certain cases, it has exceeded the agency’s legal powers over postal crimes, according to a recent watchdog report by the USPS Office of Inspector General. The report calls for a review of the program by September.

The inspector general issued its watchdog report in response to a request from Congress, where lawmakers have shown bipartisan interest in stronger oversight of the postal crimes unit’s online activities. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform questioned the USPS investigative program’s scope and accountability, asking whether added controls are needed.