Creeped out by all this talk of metadata and Big Brother and the fear that your emails aren't as private as you thought? Well, at least there's good old snail mail, right? Not so much, reports the New York Times. It looks at two programs the US Postal Service uses at the behest of law-enforcement agencies—"mail covers," which have been around for more than a century, and the scarier-sounding "Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program," which began after the 2001 anthrax attacks.
Mail covers are old-school. Postal workers, at the request of a law-enforcement agency, record by hand all the information on the front and back of letters going to your house, though they can't look inside. The MICT program is way more high-tech: USPS computers photograph the outside of every piece of mail, just in case this data—or metadata, as it were—might come in handy for an investigation down the road. (As it did recently in the latest batch of ricin letters.) A former Justice Department official sums things up:
- “In the past, mail covers were used when you had a reason to suspect someone of a crime. Now it seems to be, ‘Let’s record everyone’s mail so in the future we might go back and see who you were communicating with.’ Essentially you’ve added mail covers on millions of Americans.”