Suspicious Packages Spotlight Vast 'Mail Cover' Postal Surveillance System

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tedlistens writes: As law enforcement investigates possible mail bombs sent to prominent Democratic Party figures and liberal activists, the tools available at their disposal include digital images and delivery metadata commonly associated with mail sent in the United States. The U.S. Postal Service regularly photographs the front and back of every piece of U.S. mail, or about 150 billion parcels, envelopes, and postcards every year. A longstanding practice known as the "mail cover" program enables law enforcement to obtain address information and images of the outsides of mail as part of an investigation without the need for a warrant through the Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Postal Service's policing arm. According to a report from CBS News, authorities are currently using "data analytics" to spot similar packages to those identified as containing bombs. Images of packages shared with the press show a common return address, using the misspelled name of Representative and former Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The Postal Inspection Service doesn't generally comment on its investigative techniques. As part of the mail cover program, mail is routinely digitally photographed as part of the sorting process and even available for recipients to digitally preview in some areas. Apart from threats like bombs, the department says its main focus is on mail theft, fraud, and narcotics cases.

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