Is the federal government snooping through your mail and keeping tabs on what letters you receive? Is it fair game for the government to see your political leanings, religious beliefs and other interests by inspecting those documents?
These are just a couple of the questions Wyoming Republican Sen. Cynthia Lummis wants answered in a bipartisan letter she sent with seven other senators to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service last week.
“We cannot allow the federal government to be weaponized to violate the privacy of the people of Wyoming,” Lummis said in a Wednesday Twitter post.
The letter calls for "stronger protections for the privacy of Americans' letters and packages," according to a press release.
How Do They Do It?
Although the contents of private citizen correspondence cannot be examined without a warrant under law, those who send and receive packages are tracked in a process called "mail covers."
What these covers do is allow the government to see the types of letters and correspondence private citizens are receiving.
"While mail covers do not reveal the contents of correspondence, they can reveal deeply personal information about Americans' political leanings, religious beliefs or causes they support," the press release says.
The senators say this type of surveillance is a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of speech and establishment of religion. They also claimed the government doesn’t have the right to watch these activities, but it’s unclear what law defends that assertion.
“We cannot allow the federal government to be weaponized to violate the privacy of the people of Wyoming,” Lummis said in a statement earlier this week. “Government surveillance needs to be conducted within the guidelines of the Constitution and fully transparent to the public. Federal agencies do not have the authority to grant themselves loopholes to trample on the freedom of the people of Wyoming.”
An audit by the Office of the Inspector General revealed that government agencies sought information on more than 100,000 mail records from 2010-2014, according to the press release.
Need A Warrant
Lummis and the other lawmakers demand the USPIS reform its regulations for mail covers to better protect Americans’ privacy. The senators say government agencies should only conduct mail covers with a federal warrant, which is the current policy for inspecting contents of mail.
“If the government wants to look at your mail, they need to get a warrant,” Lummis said on Twitter.
The federal inspection of mail has prevented numerous crimes and attacks in the past, such as letters related to the anthrax attacks of 2001.
But there has also been a long history of documented abuses committed through postal surveillance. In 1976, it was discovered that the CIA had documented 2 million pieces of mail and opened hundreds of thousands of letters from prominent activists and authors.
The senators are requesting annual statistics on how much sealed mail is opened and inspected by USPIS and the United States Postal Service.
Contact Leo Wolfson at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com