Joel Skousen: US Surveillance of the Mail

World Affairs Brief, July 5, 2013 Commentary and Insights on a Troubled World. Copyright Joel Skousen. Partial quotations with attribution permitted. Cite source as Joel Skousen’s World Affairs Brief (

This Week’s Analysis:

Government Actively Blocking Snowden Asylum 

California Tracking of License Plates

US Surveillance of the Mail

Egyptian Crisis–No Easy Solution

Portuguese Bank Crisis a Threat to the EU?

FEMA’s Deal with Russia

Anti-Gun Tyranny in Alberta Canada



Although the US mail is still the most secure form of written communication (only because the government can’t see or open everything), they have computerized mail searches if and when they decide to target a particular person with a known address. Rod Nixon of the NY Times reports the following:

For mail cover requests, law enforcement agencies simply submit a letter to the Postal Service, which can grant or deny a request without judicial review. Law enforcement officials need warrants to [actually] open the mail, [although they never get one unless they are preparing to go to court] although President George W. Bush asserted in a signing statement in 2007 that the federal government had the authority to open mail without warrants in emergencies or foreign intelligence cases. [Emphasis added]

Signing statements technically don’t have any legal standing, but the courts haven’t ruled against them, as they should.

Court challenges to mail covers have generally failed because judges have ruled that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy for information contained on the outside of a letter.

While this is true, once the letters are collected and in the hands of government, does the court really expect the government to go get a warrant before they read them?

Officials in both the Bush and Obama administrations, in fact, have used the mail-cover court rulings to justify the N.S.A.’s surveillance programs, saying the electronic monitoring amounts to the same thing as a mail cover.

It DOES NOT, since all digital communications can be computer read, but not letters sealed inside envelopes. Computers are essentially opening and reading the electronic mail, but it’s still more laborious to do with snail mail, and the government only does it for specific targets—not the public at large.

Just like the NSA, the NY Times says, “Postal officials refused to discuss either mail covers or the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program.” Why am I not surprised?

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