The Postal Service is taking pictures of your mail

The agency says it's to ensure effective delivery, but the cash-strapped carrier hangs onto them for a month and doles them out to security agencies on request.

By Jason Notte Aug 2, 2013 4:54PM
Image: Mailbox (© Corbis)As the National Security Agency tries to recruit hackers to scan online data through its Prism program and law enforcement visits the homes of folks who use Google (GOOG) to look up "backpacks" and "pressure cookers," at least there's still the U.S. Postal Service to keep away the prying eyes, right?

Guess again. Even though the mail carrying agency is scarcely solvent, it somehow has the time and resources to take pictures of every piece of mail processed in the United States and hold onto it for a month.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe told The Associated Press said the photos of the exterior of mail pieces are used primarily for the sorting process, but they are available for law enforcement whenever agencies ask for them.

So, no, there's no expectation of privacy through the mail, either. You can thank the anthrax attacks in 2001 for this little program, which was just used to track ricin-laced letters sent to President Barack Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Donohoe says there's no single database of the images, which are kept on nearly 200 machines at processing facilities across the country. Each machine retains only the images of the mail it processes. The images are kept between a week and 30 days because, as Donohoe claims, it may be necessary to ensure delivery accuracy, for forwarding mail or making sure that the proper postage was paid.

There's a guy setting up an apartment in Moscow right now who may be just a bit loathe to believe Donohoe's story, mostly because the USPS is tracking the snail-mail equivalent of the metadata Prism is scanning and that even corporations such as Chevron (CVX) want a look at.

According to Donohoe, mail processing machines take photographs so software can read the images to create a barcode that is stamped on the mail to show where and when it was processed, and where it will be delivered. Mail from the same mailbox is relegated to the same batch, which helps investigators track where a particular item was mailed from to possibly identify the sender.

So how do you communicate without the government listening in on every word? Have conversations face-to-face, in public, with no electronic devices nearby -- preferably in a non-extradition country.

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Aug 2, 2013 5:57PM
Well, we all know that the federal gummint is completely corrupt and hypocritical.  What is good for YOU does not apply to THEM.  Welcome to 1984..............enjoy!
Aug 2, 2013 9:48PM
This country will become what Russia used to be, a paranoid, ruthless dictatorship.  The USPS is broke, but they can still spy on us, as if we were all terrorists.  The real terrorists are all working in Washington for the current administration, and all our representatives are playing along.
Aug 2, 2013 5:29PM
Didn't Eisenhower say something about all this right before he left office and the jackass took over.

Good job electorate.
Aug 2, 2013 6:08PM
Aug 2, 2013 6:19PM
99% of my mail is junk mail I don't want anyway
Aug 2, 2013 5:31PM
wait if i look up backpacks? the feds will come visit me? hahaha  the hell with them, i will lookup any damn thing i want and buy anything i w ant, they dont like it? too bad,  bunch of losers with no life
Aug 2, 2013 8:39PM
So they are taking pictures of all my junk mail? No wonder they are going bankrupt. Too much time and resources spent keeping track of the stuff they deliver that goes straight in my trash can when I get it.
Aug 2, 2013 6:06PM
OMG - What's next ......... Condoms with homing devices,  vibrators with GPS tracking systems or possibly even toilet paper with embedded mini cams .....?    WAFJ
Aug 2, 2013 6:01PM
Aug 2, 2013 7:41PM
The Taliban has to look over both shoulders, straight ahead and right and left, up and down constantly, 24/7!  When you try to bully the world you have a lot more to worry about.  Now, tomorrow US embassies may shut down or alater their schedule!  We have "homeland security" (yeah!), borer patrol, secret service, FB eyes, Drones, local law enforcement, state law enforcement, US Marshalls, Air Marshalls, and I don't know who all else, but they can't even control Chicago! This country is at the lowest level of respect in my lifetime! I love the country but the leadership is the same as the last four letters of "ship" witrh one letter changed to a "t." That is how I see them.
Aug 3, 2013 12:29AM
any day now we can expect to line up and have a bar code tattooed on our arms.  Merely for security reasons and to protect children of course.

Or maybe we could have colored stars sewn onto our clothing, make things easier for the officials as they sort us into the proper boxcars.
Aug 2, 2013 9:46PM
Well, it's time to oil the guns boys. They keep passing laws that are unconstitutional, at least there's a record of the traitors who wrote and voted for them. Time to pass out hunting tags for the corrupt.
Aug 3, 2013 12:34AM
Considering the caliber of the people that the govt has been hiring my guess is most of them cant read anyway.
Aug 2, 2013 7:08PM
Come on MSN, give some of us educated people some new news instead of the old tired worn out news. They have been doing this for years and many more years before they admitted to it!
Aug 2, 2013 7:39PM
This is really, really old news. The post office has been doing this (documenting mail) in some form for 30 years or so.
Aug 3, 2013 11:30AM
Now if they could only find a way to get the mail to the right person on time!
Aug 2, 2013 9:55PM
Why does my mail ALWAYS get lost then??? It never seems to arrive where I mail it, even with signature confirmation and tracking. When I call the branch to try to track it down, I always get the same response, "It is impossible to track EVERY letter". Now I know to call BS.
Aug 2, 2013 9:06PM
help yourself to taking pictures of all the JUNK mail I get! Snap away!
Aug 3, 2013 9:32AM

This is a good reason not to bother with the Post Awful.  Stop mailing anything.  Do it online, that way the government will not have spend a dime on your mail, they can invade your privacy without all that work.  It is time to begin encrypting all emails. 



Aug 2, 2013 10:26PM
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