The U.S. Postal Service’s law enforcement arm began monitoring social media posts following the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted in Minnesota and across the nation after George Floyd was killed in police custody in May 2020, according to congressional aides and lawmakers who attended a briefing this week on the program, it was revealed last week.
Analysts with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service have been going through Americans’ social media posts to track political protests as part of its Internet Covert Operations Program, known as iCOP. The news prompted more than two dozen Republican lawmakers to demand that the USPS provide information on the program.At a Wednesday briefing before the House Oversight Committee, Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale began his testimony with a dramatic video of a mail truck engulfed in flames during the protests that erupted in Minnesota after Floyd’s death. The footage was intended to illustrate why iCOP resources were dedicated to tracking protests on social media, according to a GOP aide.
Barksdale told the committee that iCOP began in 2017 under the Trump administration to investigate potential crimes, such as drug and firearms trafficking transported by the mail system, but then moved into monitoring protests last spring because of the potential threat to Postal Service workers and buildings. An increase in threats against Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was also a factor in iCOP’s continued focus on monitoring protests, according to a GOP aide who attended the briefing.
Concerns about the USPS’s social media surveillance come amid a series of controversies surrounding the Postal Service. During the 2020 presidential campaign, Democrats accused DeJoy, who was appointed by Donald Trump, of removing mailboxes and sorting machines to influence the November election, which had a record number of mail-in ballots.
The @USPS is running a program called ICOP that tracks our social media posts to get protest locations and information on individuals.
— Lindsay Fogarty (@rarediseasemom) April 27, 2021
Yet now it’s Republicans leading the charge against the USPS, after it emerged that iCOP was monitoring right-wing social media accounts following the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. It’s unclear if the news that the program was also tracking protests related to Black Lives Matter will prompt Democratic lawmakers, who have so far been silent about the program, to join their GOP colleagues in asking for more answers.
You’ll see a lot of news outlets reporting in iCOP very soon. The mischaracterization of the USPS iCOP will be a full scale distraction campaign. It is a known entity…not blackops. They’re NOT spying on your mail, they investigate crypto& human traffic.https://t.co/CoLsiDSalX
— Daniel Shields 🐢 (@dwpshields) April 30, 2021
Legislators were also told that iCOP analysts use keyword searches in social media to identify any potential threats, such as rioting or looting. It also appears that DeJoy was personally involved in the program’s shift toward social media surveillance. A GOP aide said that after DeJoy was appointed postmaster general in 2020, he reallocated some of the eight-person iCOP team, currently staffed with only five analysts, to focus on protesters.
— Brennan Center (@BrennanCenter) April 26, 2021