The 2014 annual audit of the "mail covers" surveillance program of the United States Postal Service revealed that the program has not only undergone exponential growth, it also is very vulnerable to being abused due to a lack of regulations.
The 2014 audit of the "mail covers" program, which was posted by the USPS on its website earlier this year in May, reveals that the USPS gave approval to almost 50,000 requests last year for the monitoring of the mail of certain Americans.
The approval included requests from both within the USPS and from law enforcement agencies across all levels.
Information that was obtained by The New York Times through a request under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that 50,000 request approvals are much higher compared to the requests made to the USPS in the past years.
Between the years 2001 and 2012, the USPS received only a total of over 100,000 requests by law enforcement authorities to monitor the mail of certain Americans, which translates to roughly 8,000 requests per year, not including requests made by the law enforcement arm of the USPS or for investigations on national security.
To monitor mail, the USPS uses the Mail Imaging program, which takes a picture of every single piece of mail that is sent in the United States. The main purpose of the picture is for processing the mail, but authorities are allowed to request for the images of the mail received and sent by an individual.
The USPS also uses the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking Program, which handles mail that is suspected to contain bio-hazardous chemicals.
Officials of the USPS said that their surveillance methods are much less intrusive on the privacy of people compared to the data collection procedures being implemented by the National Security Agency. However, lawyers are saying that the secrecy surrounding the program makes it difficult to check if there are any abuses being made.
In fact, the audit, along with information that was obtained by The New York Times, reveals that mail monitoring was often approved even if there is no proper authorization or reason.
"A program like this, which can reveal sensitive correspondence, must have proper oversight, authority and justification," said Center for Democracy & Technology senior counsel Harley Geiger in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, "and it appears that privacy controls were developed, but not followed."
In addition to the privacy and security concerns, the efficiency of the program is also questioned as it is over a century old.