In April 2021, there was an explosive report from Yahoo! The news that the United States Postal Service secretly collected social media data was posted by Americans. The United States Postal Inspection Service – the law enforcement arm of the United States Postal Service – conducted extensive searches “that were not legally authorized”, according to an investigation by the Inspector General.
The Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP) was established in 2018 to provide analytical support to online investigations for the USPIS. The majority (56%) of investigations conducted by iCOP from October 2018 to March 2021 involved narcotics shipped via the USPS and mail theft.
The Inspector General’s investigation found iCOP would be monitoring social media activity by Americans for “inflammatory” posts and planned protests.
Last year, the Office of the Inspector General of the Postal Service launched an investigation into iCOP at the request of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. The Inspector General’s office “reviewed 434 requests for online analytical assistance from a statistical sample of 160 cases and 70 reports produced by iCOP to assess whether these activities were authorized.” On March 25, the Inspector General issued a report on the results of the probe.
“We determined that certain proactive searches conducted by iCOP using an open source intelligence tool from February to April 2021 were beyond the law enforcement authority of the Postal Inspection Service,” the report said. the Inspector General. “Furthermore, we were unable to corroborate whether other analyst work performed from October 2018 to June 2021 was legally authorized.”
“From February 19 to April 21, 2021, iCOP used any of the 10 profiles established in the intelligence tool to perform searches that were not legally authorized,” the report noted. “This tool manages proactive intelligence gathering by continuously monitoring open source websites, including social media and messaging platforms, for predefined sets of keywords.”
“The keywords used by iCOP for any of the profiles during this period did not include any terms related to the mail, postal crimes, or the security of postal facilities or personnel,” the investigation reveals. “Examples of keywords include ‘protest’, ‘attack’ and ‘destroy.'”
“We also found that management had not developed a records management policy or standards for storing and retaining sensitive information for iCOP,” the report added. “Finally, the contracts supporting these activities did not include all the required documents upon award.”
After Yahoo! The report was published in April 2021, iCOP changed its name to “Analytics Team”.
As a result of the audit, the Inspector General made six recommendations, including that “management conduct a comprehensive review of the analytics team to ensure activities are authorized; revise standard operating procedures for the analytics team; and develops storage and retention policies.