The USPS photos all mail, and keeps the images for up to 30 days. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe explains that it is part of standard procedure.
Donahoe states that the images are available to law enforcement upon request. He denies that the USPS is “snooping on customers.”
As reported by the Associated Press, the photos are taken as part of the sorting process. Nearly 200 imagining machines are used at processing facilities across the nation.
The postmaster contends that the images are not stored in a central database. Instead, they are saved on each machine for up to 30 days. Donahoe explains that the images are used to create a bar code on each piece of mail.
The bar codes contain tracking information, and can be used to by law enforcement. Donahoe explains how the system works:
“We’ve got a process in place that pretty much outlines, in any specific facility, the path that mail goes through… So if anything ever happens… we would be able very quickly to track back to see what building it was in, what machines it was on, that type of thing.”
They system is called The Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program, and it has been helpful in the investigation of threatening and tainted mail.
USPS photos of mail were utilized in the investigation of letters containing ricin. The letters were mailed through the USPS to President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg earlier this year. The FBI mentioned the tracking program in their official affidavit.
Another system used by the USPS to monitor mail is called Mail Covers. The system is part of the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program.
As reported by The New York Times, Mail Covers tracks mail sent to or from specific customers. The tracking is done only at the request of law enforcement.
The USPS takes images of the mail and forwards them to the requesting agency. Over 10,000 pieces of mail are monitored every year with the Mail Covers system.
Customers may not be aware that the USPS photos all mail. However, with increased discussion of monitoring programs, it should not be a surprise.
[Image via Flickr]