Report: US Government Spies on Thousands of Americans’ Mail Every Year

Records show 312,000 parcels and letters were recorded by postal inspectors between 2015-2023

The US Postal Service (USPS) has been spying on thousands of Americans’ mail every year for a decade, including letters and parcels, and provided citizens’ information to police and elements of the national security apparatus, a Washington Post investigation found. Tens of thousands of requests have been submitted to the USPS since 2015.

Following such requests from the IRS, FBI, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and other agencies, the USPS has shared names, addresses, and other findings from the exteriors of Americans’ packages and envelopes without court orders. The surveillance system is known as the “mail covers program,” ostensibly used to track down suspects or evidence.

However, the investigation reads, “a decade’s worth of records, provided exclusively to The Washington Post in response to a congressional probe, show Postal Service officials have received more than 60,000 requests from federal agents and police officers since 2015, and that they rarely say no. Each request can cover days or weeks of mail sent to or from a person or address, and 97 percent of the requests were approved, according to the data. Postal inspectors recorded more than 312,000 letters and packages between 2015 and 2023, the records show.”

In the past, the USPS has declined to reveal how often it grants the requests, arguing in a 2015 audit that it would harm the technique’s effectiveness by “alerting criminals” to how it works. Although, in that audit, USPS conceded it had green-lit almost 160,000 requests from postal inspectors and officials in law enforcement, with the IRS, FBI, and DHS topping the list.

Last May, eight senators, including Rand Paul (R-KY), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), submitted a letter imploring the USPS’ law enforcement arm, the US Inspection Service, to require a federal judge’s approval for the requests as well as to expose more details regarding the program. Officials chose to “provide this surveillance service and to keep postal customers in the dark about the fact that they have been subjected to monitoring,” the senators wrote.

This month, Gary Barksdale, the chief postal inspector, refused to change the policy but furnished “nearly a decade’s worth of data showing that postal inspectors, federal agencies, and state and local police forces made an average of about 6,700 requests a year, and that inspectors additionally recorded data from about another 35,000 pieces of mail a year,” the Post reports.

Barksdale disputes that the mail covers program is a “large-scale surveillance apparatus,” claiming instead the USPS is bolstering the national security state’s efforts to “carry out their missions and protect the American public.”

He argues that the practice has been authorized since 1879, the year after a Supreme Court ruling prohibited government officials from opening American citizens’ mail without first obtaining a warrant. He declares “there is no reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to information contained on the outside of mail matter.”

Whereas the senators emphasized in their letter last year that the exteriors of mail contain a myriad of personal and sensitive information such as with whom American citizens are corresponding, places of worship they attend, the bills they’re paying, social causes to which they contribute, as well as what political views they hold.

In 1978, a circuit court judge determined that mail covers betray deeply personal information “in a manner unobtainable even through surveillance of [citizens’] movements,” thus rendering “the subject’s life an open book.”

Subsequent to these fresh disclosures, Sen. Wyden stated “These new statistics show that thousands of Americans are subjected to warrantless surveillance each year, and that the Postal Inspection Service rubber stamps practically all of the requests they receive… [the US Inspection Service is] refusing to raise its standards and require law enforcement agencies monitoring the outside of Americans’ mail to get a court order, which is already required to monitor emails and texts.”

Connor Freeman is the assistant editor and a writer at the Libertarian Institute, primarily covering foreign policy. He is a co-host on the Conflicts of Interest podcast. His writing has been featured in media outlets such as, Counterpunch, and the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. He has also appeared on Liberty Weekly, Around the Empire, and Parallax Views. You can follow him on Twitter @FreemansMind96.