Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Lawyers’ Group Seeks Overhaul of a Postal Service Surveillance Program

A Postal Service surveillance program that records the information on the outside of letters and packages delivered to people suspected of criminal activity should be overhauled because of a lack of oversight, according to a report by a national defense lawyers’ group.

An audit by the service’s inspector general last year found that about 20 percent of the orders for surveillance under the program, known as mail covers, were improperly approved. The New York Times reported on abuses in the program, including a case in which law enforcement officials in Arizona used it to investigate a political opponent.

The report, released Tuesday, suggests that Congress pass legislation to ban any evidence obtained through the misuse of mail covers. It also urges outside reviews of requests for mail covers.

High standards of evidence by law enforcement agencies to justify mail covers, which are almost always approved, are also suggested in the report. It also calls on the service to explain why it keeps data from mail covers for eight years, while the National Security Agency keeps the data it collects for five years. The report recommends that the service reduce the amount of time it keeps the information.

The lawyers’ group, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, called the disclosures about the program troubling.


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