A review conducted by the Postal Service Office of Inspector General found that the Postal Service surveillance program iCOP exceeded its legal authority by surveilling Americans during protests between 2018 and 2021.
In 2021, Yahoo News reported the existence of the secret program, prompting outrage from lawmakers and constitutional experts who noted the program operated without oversight from Congress. Soon after the Yahoo News' report, Congress requested the Inspector General's office to launch an investigation into iCOP (Internet Covert Operations Program).
“We determined that certain proactive searches iCOP conducted using an open-source intelligence tool from February to April 2021 exceeded the Postal Inspection Service's law enforcement authority,” the March 25, 2022, Inspector General report stated.
“Furthermore, we could not corroborate whether other work analysts completed from October 2018 through June 2021 was legally authorized.”
According to Yahoo News, iCOP used sophisticated technology, including facial recognition, to compile reports on protesters. It ran keywords searches for terms such as “protest” on online platforms to collect speech about protests that had nothing to do with the Postal Service's work.
The House Oversight Committee chair, Rep. Carolyn Maloney said the Inspector General report proves there was cause for concern over iCOP's activities.
“The Oversight Committee requested this report because of our significant concerns about intelligence activities conducted by the Postal Service Inspection Service's analytics team related to First Amendment activity,” Maloney said in a statement to Yahoo News. “The Inspector General's audit makes clear that the committee's concerns were justified, and that the use of open-source intelligence by the analytics team ‘exceeded the Postal Inspection Service's law enforcement authority.'”
The report concluded that the Postal Service exceeded its legal authority in monitoring protesters, and stressed iCOP's activities should have a “postal nexus.”
“However, the keywords used for iCOP in the proactive searches did not include any terms with a postal nexus. Further, the postal nexus was not documented in 122 requests and 18 reports due to a lack of requirements in the program's procedures. These issues occurred because management did not involve the Postal Inspection Service's Office of Counsel in developing iCOP or its procedures.”