They're in the Mail: Government Mail Surveillance Outed
Do you ever feel like you're being watched? Well, even if you don't, you
probably definitely are. We live in a post-Snowden world; this is now common, garden-variety knowledge that the NSA is observing every facet of our increasingly mechanistic society. And lest anyone naïvely think our print mail was the last bastion of privacy, The New York Times recently helped make us widely aware of earlier news from Politico that is no longer the case.
The exposé comes in the form of an audit of the United States Postal Service which was published in May, brought to light by reporters from Politico in June, and The New York Times, a few days ago. The report reveals that in 2013, the USPS processed and accepted nearly 50,000 requests from law enforcement to secretly monitor mail, with no oversight or need to give reason for the surveillance. Politico further elaborates that 20 percent of requests were not properly approved, and an additional 13 percent were completely unjustified or not documented at all.
The program, known as "mail covers," records the exterior data—names, return address and any other information—of letters and packages before they're delivered to a person of interest. While that data is usually recorded for USPS services anyway, it has been more readily available in response to requests. The troubling bit is there is little to no oversight involved in the process. The NYT piece uses the illustration of a local county sheriff using the program to keep tabs on a political activist in his community—a clear abuse of power.
NYT commenters were quick to add wit to wisdom, quipping things like "Trying to fathom the number of Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons the government has on file for me alone." And when it comes to direct mail, that jibe definitely has a big grain of truth embedded in it. As private citizens, we should certainly be concerne—outraged, even—that our government is snooping on us via our mail. But what does this mean to the marketers sending mail? Does it cut down on consumer trust of mail? Or consume trust in the tools of remote commerce? First email, now direct mail, is no channel sacred?! Leave your thoughts in the comments below.