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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Today in the Surveillance State: Your Snail Mail Is Also Being Tracked (Happy Fourth of July!)

Posted by on Wed, Jul 3, 2013 at 4:20 PM

When the news broke about the NSA's mass digital surveillance of millions of Americans, whether or not they were suspected of any wrongdoing, it reminded me of the FBI's old Hoover-era mail surveillance programs—and the FBI's stern and sustained rebuke from the US Senate in the mid-1970s for that kind of domestic surveillance. I wondered if quaint old snail mail might become a new form of communicating privately. No such luck. From the NYT:

Leslie James Pickering noticed something odd in his mail last September: 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.

“Show all mail to supv” — supervisor — “for copying prior to going out on the street,” read the card. It included Mr. Pickering’s name, address and the type of mail that needed to be monitored. The word “confidential” was highlighted in green.

“It was a bit of a shock to see it,” said Mr. Pickering, who owns a small bookstore in Buffalo. More than a decade ago, he was a spokesman for the Earth Liberation Front, a radical environmental group labeled eco-terrorists by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Postal officials subsequently confirmed they were indeed tracking Mr. Pickering’s mail but told him nothing else.

All the government-spying-on-its-own-citizens arguments aside, this kind of surveillance lends itself to serious abuse from tin-pot bureaucrats who have vendettas against personal, political, or professional critics. From lower in the article:

In May 2012, Mary Rose Wilcox, a Maricopa County supervisor, was awarded nearly $1 million by a federal judge after winning a lawsuit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his immigration raids in Arizona, who, among other things, obtained mail covers from the Postal Service to track her mail. The judge called the investigation into Ms. Wilcox politically motivated because she had been a frequent critic of Mr. Arpaio, objecting to what she considered the targeting of Hispanics in his immigration sweeps. The case is being appealed.

Yes, the digital age has brought new legal dimensions to state surveillance—but it looks like even our lo-fi means of communicating with each other has gone back to the bad old days of law enforcement spying on people it thinks are "different." In 1976, the Senate Church Committee wrote:

Too many people have been spied upon by too many Government agencies and too much information has been collected. The Government has often undertaken the secret surveillance of citizens on the basis of their political beliefs, even when those beliefs posed no threat of violence or illegal acts on behalf of a hostile foreign power. The Government, operating primarily through secret informants, but also using other intrusive techniques such as wiretaps, microphone "bugs", surreptitious mail opening, and break-ins, has swept in vast amounts of information about the personal lives, views, and associations of American citizens. Investigations of groups deemed potentially dangerous — and even of groups suspected of associating with potentially dangerous organizations—have continued for decades, despite the fact that those groups did not engage in unlawful activity.

Groups and individuals have been harassed and disrupted because of their political views and their lifestyles. Investigations have been based upon vague standards whose breadth made excessive collection inevitable.

US Senators understood why that was a problem back in 1975. Hell, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and the rest of the founders who insisted on the Bill of Rights understood why that was a problem two hundred years before that.

What's wrong with us?

Happy Freedom Day, everyone!

Thanks to Greg for the tip.


Comments (15) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
You beat me to it, Brendan, but here's some more stuff:

The Business of Business Intelligence

People are slowly, but finally, getting the message --- the memo --- the real deal --- unplugged from the Matrix --- however one wishes to phrase it, that the American intelligence establishment has never, ever been about national security, but about finacial intel, today referred to as business intelligence!

The dood who wrote the report while at the Pentagon, urging for the full privatization of the American intelligence community, has just apologized for lying his ass off to congress (although he lied repeatedly during the Bush administration about those "weapons of mass destruction in Iraq" --- something he still has yet to apologize for:…

The director of National Intelligence apologized in June to the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee for lying during a hearing, according to a letter published on the DNI website on Tuesday.

Director James Clapper appeared before the committee in March, where Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked him specifically if NSA spies on millions of Americans. Clapper answered, “No.”…

WASHINGTON — Leslie James Pickering noticed something odd in his mail last September: 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.

“Show all mail to supv” — supervisor — “for copying prior to going out on the street,” read the card. It included Mr. Pickering’s name, address and the type of mail that needed to be monitored. The word “confidential” was highlighted in green.

. . . . .

Mr. Pickering was targeted by a longtime surveillance system called mail covers, but that is only a forerunner of a vastly more expansive effort, the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program, in which Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year. It is not known how long the government saves the images.

And that's why they are going after the whistleblowers, including the latest, Edward Snowden:…

The Defense Intelligence Agency, originated and financed during the Eisenhower administration, but timewise went into operation at the beginning of the Kennedy administration --- so it is incorrectly or falsely attributed to that administration --- was conceived as the military prong in the plutocracy's business intelligence complex.

Ever since its inception, the DIA has been all about the upper reaches of business intel (or financial intelligence) and a member of the super-rich has always occupied a top position there.

Whether it was Chris Mellon, of the Mellon family, who was with them in 2000-2002, and "leaked" the salacious information that Iran had, or was just about to have, a nuke (and that was how many years ago now?????), to Jeffrey Starr (Cornelius Vander Starr, founder of AIG, his grandnephew is Kenneth Starr, former special prosecutor aimed at Bill Clinton), who was mentioned as being on loan from the DIA to Goldman Sachs' Business Intelligence Group in the book by Eamon Javiers, Broker, Trader, Lawyer, Spy on pp. 191-192 (a real pile of drivel was that book!) the super-rich have been well represented at the DIA, just as their lackeys have well represented them at the CIA and NSA, etc.

And further on the business intelligence front:…

Posted by sgt_doom on July 3, 2013 at 4:40 PM · Report this
U.S. State Department spent $630,000 to ‘buy’ Facebook fans…

Posted by sgt_doom on July 3, 2013 at 4:57 PM · Report this
Posted by sgt_doom on July 3, 2013 at 5:07 PM · Report this
fletc3her 4
The great thing about Echelon/Prism style surveillance is all of your email and phone records are captured before you are even under suspicion. Then a retroactive search warrant (or bored contractor) can instigate a search against you dating back to the start of the program. It's akin to everyone having their postal mail scanned. And really, do we seriously think that isn't a feature of the mail sorters in the new centralized sorting centers?

Posted by fletc3her on July 3, 2013 at 5:08 PM · Report this
Posted by sgt_doom on July 3, 2013 at 5:14 PM · Report this
deerwhistle 6
Not that it makes it legal, but someone who was an ELF spokesman should not be surprised to have his mail searched. I'm not agreeing with the "terrorist" label necessarily, but a number of ELF folks are pretty well-known for blowing shit up.
Posted by deerwhistle on July 3, 2013 at 5:23 PM · Report this
merry 7
Holy. Shit.
Posted by merry on July 3, 2013 at 6:16 PM · Report this
What is wrong with us? Really it's THEM:
Posted by Linda J on July 3, 2013 at 6:52 PM · Report this
Cascadian Bacon 9
Strangely enough I have recently had mail that was going to other firearms enthusiast be very delayed.
Posted by Cascadian Bacon on July 3, 2013 at 7:10 PM · Report this
venomlash 10
@9: Maybe the USPS had trouble recognizing the addresses on their siege bunkers?
Posted by venomlash on July 3, 2013 at 10:18 PM · Report this
@9 well you have spoken in the public square to be in favour of separating from the USA . Given that separatists are prone to violent acts, why are you surprised?

Wouldn't your utopian Cascadia do the same thing to protect itself?
Posted by Machiavelli was framed on July 3, 2013 at 11:54 PM · Report this
"When you control the mail, you control the information!"

- Newman
Posted by floater on July 4, 2013 at 12:02 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 13
@4 is correct, as most American serfs would know, except they're too lazy.

Mmm, sports and beer ...
Posted by Will in Seattle on July 4, 2013 at 12:22 AM · Report this

"you're a suspect and shouldn't be surprised"

Pathetic. This is how flimsy and hypocritical all the chanting about rights and freedom is. Revisionist run rampant on the founders and the constitution from all angles; Texas nut jobs write the atheist Jefferson out and down play any influence and the the liberal NW says you've got no right to be left alone if you disagree with the government.
Posted by Agrippa on July 4, 2013 at 9:05 AM · Report this
Cascadian Bacon 15
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
-4th Ammendment, The Bill of Rights

Funny because the founding fathers were seperatist themselves.

Now take that big goverment NSA spying democratic party cock further down your gullet you pathetic little bitch.


That was a good one, I LOLd

Right on!
Posted by Cascadian Bacon on July 4, 2013 at 5:40 PM · Report this

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