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Post service accused of monitoring American social media posts under controversial ‘iCOP’ surveillance project

‘Covert’ programme monitoring messages for ‘inflammatory’ content ahead of planned protests

James Crump@thejamescrump
Thursday 22 April 2021 15:16
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The US Postal Service (USPS) is reportedly running a “covert” programme to monitor the social media posts of Americans for “inflammatory” content ahead of planned protests.

The law enforcement arm of the USPS, the US Postal Inspection Service, is monitoring “inflammatory” social media posts and passing them over to other government agencies as part of the Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP), according to a Yahoo News report.

Yahoo discovered the programme after obtaining a memo on 16 March marked as “law enforcement sensitive” that said USPS employees analysed “significant activity regarding planned protests occurring internationally and domestically on March 20, 2021.”

The memo was distributed through the Department of Homeland Security’s fusion centres, with the posts and dates of the protests identified and shared.

Analysts reportedly looked through posts on several social media, sites including Facebook, Parler and Telegram before flagging messages deemed as “inflammatory” to the Department of Homeland Security.

The 16 March memo appeared to be referring to demonstrations planned for a World Wide Rally for Freedom and Democracy, where protesters demonstrated against several causes, including implementation of 5G technology and Covid lockdowns.

Yahoo reported that the two-page bulletin included screenshots of people planning to protest from several social media accounts that included “inflammatory material” that “suggests potential violence may occur.”

One screenshot from users on Parler, a messaging platform favoured by supporters of former President Donald Trump, showed two people discussing the protests as an opportunity to “do serious damage” and to engage in a “fight.”

Despite passing the screenshots onto other agencies, the report added that “no intelligence is available to suggest the legitimacy of these threats.”

At least one alleged Proud Boys member, a right-wing, neo-fascist group, was named alongside several other people in the report, despite their posts not containing threatening messaging.

“iCOP analysts are currently monitoring these social media channels for any potential threats stemming from the scheduled protests and will disseminate intelligence updates as needed,” the USPS explained in the memo.

In a statement to Yahoo, the USPS said that “the US Postal Inspection Service is the primary law enforcement, crime prevention, and security arm of the US Postal Service.

“As such, the US Postal Inspection Service has federal law enforcement officers, Postal Inspectors, who enforce approximately 200 federal laws to achieve the agency’s mission: protect the US Postal Service and its employees, infrastructure, and customers; enforce the laws that defend the nation’s mail system from illegal or dangerous use; and ensure public trust in the mail.”

The agency added: “In order to preserve operational effectiveness, the US Postal Inspection Service does not discuss its protocols, investigative methods, or tools.”

The memo has been revealed amid greater focus on monitoring of social media posts following the deadly Capitol insurrection on 6 January, which was planned by many protesters by using messaging platforms.

The Independent has contacted the USPS for comment.

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