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The U.S. Postal Service Introduces Mail Isolation Control and Tracking (MICT), a Kind of Surveillance

2001 to 6/7/2013
U. S. Postal Service logo in use in 2020.

U. S. Postal Service logo in use in 2020.

Since 2001 U.S. Postal Service computers have been photographing the exterior of every piece of paper mail processed in the United States under the formerly secret mass surveillance program known as Mail Isolation Control and Tracking (MICT). Created in the aftermath of the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people, including two postal workers, MICT enables the Postal Service to track mail correspondence retroactively at the request of law enforcement, under the "Mail cover" program.

"The Federal Bureau of Investigations revealed MICT on June 7, 2013 when discussing the Bureau's investigation of ricin-laced letters sent to U.S. President Barack Obama and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. The FBI stated in a criminal complaint that the program was used to narrow its investigation to Shannon Richardson.Computer security and information privacy expert Bruce Schneier compared MICT to National Security Agency programs leaked in June 2013 by Edward Snowden and said,

" 'Basically they are doing the same thing as the other programs, collecting the information on the outside of your mail, the metadata, if you will, of names, addresses, return addresses and postmark locations, which gives the government a pretty good map of your contacts, even if they aren’t reading the contents.'

"James J. Wedick, a former FBI agent, said of MICT, 'It’s a treasure trove of information. Looking at just the outside of letters and other mail, I can see who you bank with, who you communicate with — all kinds of useful information that gives investigators leads that they can then follow up on with a subpoena.' He also said the program 'can be easily abused because it’s so easy to use and you don’t have to go through a judge to get the information. You just fill out a form.' (Wikipedia article on Mail isolation Control and Tracking, accessed 07-08-2013).

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