- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The U.S. Postal Service allowed law enforcement agents to peek at Americans’ pieces of mail nearly 50,000 times in 2013, an investigation from The New York Times found.

The newspaper found through a Freedom of Information Act request that “in many cases, the Postal Service approved requests to monitor an individual’s mail without adequately describing the reason or having proper written authorization,” The Hill reported.

The report also clarified that that the U.S. Postal Service wasn’t actually reading Americans’ mail, but rather looking at the outside of parcels for certain key pieces of information — like return addresses, The Hill reported.

The Hill also reported that the so-called “mail-cover” program’s been in place for years — as part of a post-September 11 terrorism and national security fighting tool — but that it’s mostly flown under the radar, and nobody’s really known how much mail was being scrutinized.

“You can’t just get a mail cover to go on a fishing expedition,” Paul Krenn, a spokesman for the Postal Inspection Service, told The New York Times. “There has to be a legitimate law enforcement reason, and the mail cover can’t be the sole tool.”

The American Civil Liberties Union weighed in on the program, characterizing it as needful of oversight.

“When a targeted surveillance tool is used on this scale, the distinction between targeted and dragnet surveillance begins to seem academic,” Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU’s deputy legal director, told The Washington Times in an email. “The fact that the government is monitoring so many people without probably cause or judicial oversight is yet another reminder that the rules limiting government surveillance are both too lenient and too weakly enforced.”

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