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  •  I was expecting a voice of sanity diary (13+ / 0-)

    that talked us down from the rec list diary about snail mail.  I didn't get that.

    But another thing began to grow at that same time. It was the ability, and eventually the necessity, to scan every piece of mail in the system.
    I'm trying to imagine the kind of fatalistic mindset that could conflate the growth of the "ability" into the growth of the "necessity."  Because, I don't see the necessity.  I hear the same "Terruists are going to get us" argument, only this time, the justification is the 2001 anthrax mailing.  You're making a completely parallel argument to the one made for Prism and the Patriot Act here.  I.e., that since Terrorist-bad-stuff, and since now-we-can-do-this, yippee, it must be done.

    I don't see that connection, and if we've learned anything from Prism, we should know that we shouldn't cooperate with that kind of thinking.

    Also, for what it's worth, the other diary includes the example of a guy who years ago used to belong to Earth Liberation Front, an environmental activist group.  That's who the government is spying on this way.  

    •  OK. Wow. (58+ / 0-)

      If you propose that the Postal Service revert to sorting mail by hand, OK, wow.

      If you propose that the Postal Service intentionally choose to automate mail sorting with inferior technology, OK, wow.

      If you have a different suggestion about automated mail sorting, I would be very interested to hear it.

      "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness." John Kenneth Galbraith

      by LeftOfYou on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 09:01:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Let me add. (22+ / 0-)

        You might think that information obtained by the Postal Service ought to be immune to law enforcement scrutiny. Because that has never been the case, that is a pretty extreme position.

        If you are concerned that the Postal Service is diverting what its lenses see so that the NSA can mine it later? I guarantee you that the money does not exist to make this possible, so, OK, wow.

        "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness." John Kenneth Galbraith

        by LeftOfYou on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 09:11:42 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I suppose we need some way of (8+ / 0-)

          tracking illegal mail.  

          But what gets me is the idea that because we need some way of tracking it, AND because improvements in technology make it or will make it possible to easily track ALL mail, that we shouldn't worry about it.  I would argue that it's this growing technological ability to track everything that makes closer scrutiny and restriction of it necessary.

          •  Its like when we moved from mail to telegraph (11+ / 0-)

            Technology evolves and, more or less in step with it, so dues the ability of law enforcement to avail itself of the information provided by evolving and emerging technologies. A problem with the NSA may be with its blanket access to U.S.citizen information. I'm not sure. But, the idea that law enforcement should not have reasonably unfettered access to everything that exists in order to solve a crime on probable cause runs counter to everything every Americans have ever seen in a TV show.

            "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness." John Kenneth Galbraith

            by LeftOfYou on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 09:52:37 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I think that ideas that "run counter to everything (8+ / 0-)

              every Americans have ever seen in a TV show" might frequently be good ideas.

              For example, I do not subscribe to "the idea that law enforcement should have reasonably unfettered access to everything that exists". First, perhaps you are familiar with a caveat that my own attorney once issued: he cautioned against using the word "reasonable" in legal documents because, as he put it, "every lawyer has a reasonable client".

              Second, that "unfettered" part - once we realize that "reasonable" is a meaningless word - defines a police state.

              No, I do not want to become those TV shows. The right wing tried it with "24": their hero Jack Bauer saved wimmin and chirren by torturing people, ergo torturing people was a good idea. Hey, I suppose we could become "Minority Report". Utopia! Technology had so eliminated individual rights that crimes could be stopped before they occurred! Of course, the downside was that part about "...eliminated individual rights", buy, hey, the world was safe, right?

              No thanks.

              "Bernie Madoff's mistake was stealing from the rich. If he'd stolen from the poor he'd have a cabinet position." -OPOL

              by blue in NC on Thu Jul 04, 2013 at 03:55:15 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  Auto-sort does not equal auto-copy (13+ / 0-)
        If you propose that the Postal Service revert to sorting mail by hand, OK, wow.

        If you propose that the Postal Service intentionally choose to automate mail sorting with inferior technology, OK, wow.

        If you have a different suggestion about automated mail sorting, I would be very interested to hear it.

        A. Nobody says they should revert to hand sort.  However auto-sorting does not equate to auto-copying.  What you are saying is that it is necessary to copy now that they have the ability which is a pretty circular argument. Surely the sorting machine doesn't have to be programmed to copy in order to function.

        B.  I have not read anywhere that the PO is sending data to the NSA so your title false on it's face unless of course they are sharing data and if so how would we know?

        C. The equivalence between the NSA and PO programs is the mass dragnet of meta data.  They aren't tracking, or just tracking, illegal mail.  They are copying data from all mail and without question mail sent within the US and by US Citizens.  

        D. My suggestion to your last point is simple.  Program the scanner to pick out and copy just the mail that they are specifically authorized to track because there is some legal suspicion directly related to it's sender or receiver.  

        The issue isn't that I have nothing to fear because I've done nothing wrong.  It is that because I have done nothing wrong I have a legal right to privacy under the 4th Amendment.    How shall I, for instance, be "secure in my papers," if the government monitors them without just cause.  My papers in this case meaning business correspondence I send through the mail.  

        A bad idea isn't responsible for those who believe it. ---Stephen Cannell

        by YellerDog on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 10:26:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I would like to add some information to your (21+ / 0-)

          well-elucidated points:

          A)  Absolutely correct. Auto-sort does not require "auto-image and store".   Auto-sort reads the handwritten, typed, or printed To Address at the first sort location and sprays either a "2D barcode" (aka "Postnet") or "Intelligent Mail barcode" below the address.  

          Here is an image showing the barcodes (top two codes) which anyone will see on almost all first class mail they receive.

          B) Senators Udall & Wyden state that the NSA can use the Patriot Act to access any records of any type:

          The senators also explained how Patriot Act authorities can be abused.

          The statement says that "section 215 of the Patriot Act can be used to collect any type of records whatsoever," and highlights the potential for abuse (emphasis ours):

          "The fact that Patriot Act authorities were used for the bulk collection of email records as well as phone records underscores our concern that this authority could be used to collect other types of records in bulk as well, including information on credit card purchases, medical records, library records, firearm sales records, financial information and a range of other sensitive subjects. These other types of collection could clearly have a significant impact on Americans’ constitutional rights."
          It should be noted that the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) can copy and examine entire government databases to predict possible criminal behavior of any U.S. citizen, according to a November report by Julia Angwin of The Wall Street Journal.

          That means that the NCTC can "examine the government files of U.S. citizens for possible criminal behavior, even if there is no reason to suspect them," Angwin found.

          C)  Correct. The issue is a dragnet of data assembled by government agencies without probable cause or any reason specific to particular persons. The Founders of our country had specific objections to General Warrants of the King and required that our rights against such general searches and seizures be prohibited in the Fourth Amendment.
          That statement is reminiscent of claims made by NSA whistleblower William Binney, who contends that a program he built (i.e. ThinThread) has been used to track electronic activities — phone calls, emails, banking and travel records, social media , etc. — and map them to collect "all the attributes that any individual has" in every type of activity and build a real-time profile based on that data.
          D) and Conclusion:  Absolutely agree.

          I'm surprised an attorney wrote a "nothing to see here" diary about a government dragnet of personal activity.  The Fourth Amendment is clear.

          The birthday card I send my sister may be of no import and may mean nothing whatsoever. But if the government builds a capability of monitoring all my contacts at all times and over the years, then that's not the same at all as a copy of one piece of mail.  

          That has the potential for widespread abuse. The American people deserve not to be monitored simply for living. The gathering of information into these systems is reaching epic proportions.

          "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

          by YucatanMan on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 10:55:13 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  yes and no (27+ / 0-)

            First, mail covers do not require court orders, on the basis that the information is not confidential because it is disclosed in order to use the service.  No warrant is necessary because a mail cover is not per se considered a violation of the 4th amendment.  

            In theory, internal Postal Service regulations limits the time for mail covers -  30 to 120 days.  But there is no requirement that they do so.

            The question now becomes whether there should be restrictions on whether the Postal Service can gather and/or keep images.  So far Congress has not seen fit to impose such restrictions.

            If the information from mail covers is available, by the nature of the information no warrant is required for either law enforcement or Homeland Security to request information, at least not under current law, as far as I know  (and I am not a lawyer).

            Now, having said all that, because of what we are now capable of doing with matrices, there are real issues of how information is gathered - by commercial organizations, by the government - how long it is retained, and how it is used.  The entire notion of privacy as originally protected by the 4th Amendment needs to be rethought, and as a society we have not done so.

            We have no expectation in a public place of privacy - our images can be photographed, someone does not require our permission to publish an image of us obtained from a public place.  This is in part how paparazzi operate in their photos of celebraties.  There are now so many security cameras operated by businesses, so many traffic cameras, that with the improvement of things like facial recognition software, the ability to identify someone by how they move, etc., and the power of computers, that the ability to track our movements without having either to follow us or have a GPS implanted on us (our cell phones) or our vehicles is at least theoretically possible.  

            Absent specific legislation by Congress, law enforcement and the national security apparatus is fully within the law on gathering and keeping this information.  I don't like it, just like I don't like it being done by corporations, who already have far too much information about us.  We make tradeoffs -  today is my shopping day, because my local supermarket gives me 5% off as a senior citizen.  For that I do not have to use the market's discount card, but then I lose other discounts that are greater than the 5% (which goes on top of them).  In order for me to save the most money (which as a currently retired teacher is important), I am surrendering to the company the right to gather information about my buying patterns.  

            Could I limit the amount of such information by only purchasing in cash?  Yes, but how would I obtain the cash in the first place?  And could not supermarket footage of cash purchases be matched with bank security images of getting cash either from a teller or an ATM?

            The real issue is our need to rethink how we protect privacy.  We will not be able to get there unless we are willing to impose some restrictions upon corporations gathering and retaining of information.  

            I agree that for a lawyer to have written in the fashion the diarist has as a "nothing to see here" item is surprising.  The issue is not merely what is illegal or unconstitutional.  It is what is LEGAL and how that destroys any sense of privacy we may have.

            For example -  what happens if one accidentally goes to a site that contains child pornography, once?  If one is on a fixed IP address, as I am on my DSL connection, that gives warrant to the government to seize my computer for exploration, and root through everything in my life.

            I want to go back to an earlier time, when employers required job applicants to sign statements about never having been a member of of, attended meetings of, or receive mail from any organization on the Attorney General's list of subversive organizations - a product of the fears of anti-communism that led to the McCarthyite period.  This practice continued well into the late 1960s, maybe even into the early 1970s (I was not looking for a new job between 1969 and 1974, so I do not know when it ended).  I would refuse to sign such a statement for several reasons

            - most employers could not provide a current list of such organizations, so I could not know if I were answering truthfully
            - the lists did not say WHEN the organizations were so designated, so that I might well have had contact with an organization BEFORE it was designated by the Attorney General
            - I did not control who sent me mail.  In high school, it was not unusual if our names appeared in the paper to receive mail from all kinds of organizations, sometimes at school, in other cases at home.  It was unsolicited but it presented a problem with signing such a statement.

            Given the way network analysis is now being done, many of us are in a position where we could be flagged for further investigation because we have been mailed, called, emailed.

            Back in the days where our profiles here gave us the option of publicly listing our emails, the mere fact that we were bloggers could subject us to all kinds of emails.  I got on the list of a lot of early tea party groups, for example.  I still regular have to notify people to stop sending me unwanted emails for groups/organization/candidates whose positions I abhor.  Yet the mere fact that I have been contact by them could be used as justification for further exploration of all meta-data about me - including if allowed to be kept any snail mail I have received.

            And then there is the confusion of identities.  My mother was nominated by Nelson Rockefeller for a position as an Assistant Attorney General in NY State.  That required her to be cleared by the State Police.  She was nominated in late January, but unable to get her position until the Fall, because the State Police were having trouble clearing her.  The dialog went something like this

            SP  your name is Sylvia Bernstein.
            Mom  yes
            SP during WWII you worked in the OPA
            Mom  yes
            SP  you are communist
            Mom - no, I was a lawyer at the OPA.  I began there before I married, and continued there under my maiden name, Sylvia Livingston (which btw was the name under which she was nominated by Rockefeller) because that is the name on my law license.  You are talking about someone else.
            SP - but your name is Sylvia Bernstein.

            It took months for the State Police to recognize that my mom was not the same Sylvia Bernstein.  That Sylvia Bernstein - and her husband - were communists.  They were the parents of the Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein.

            I agree - there is potential for widespread abuse.  There is also the potential for wrecking people's lives in lots of ways.  Mistaken identity is one.  Another would be a false flag operation to contact someone by a plant within a subversive group and use that as an excuse to wreck someone's life.  

            We do need a discussion.  We do need sunlight.

            The issue is not what is illegal.

            What is scary is what is legal for the government to do.

            And what is even scarier is the lack of restriction on corporate interests in the information they are allowed to gather and keep on us, and sometimes share without a warrant with the government.

            When Congress retroactively gave immunity to the telecomms for having violated then current law in giving information to the Bush administration, we lost what little control there was.

            "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

            by teacherken on Thu Jul 04, 2013 at 04:14:30 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Couldn't agree more. This has all been done (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              gmfp, teacherken, DSPS owl

              without our input, without sunlight, without disclosure.

              The retroactive immunity was one of the most disgusting and, in my mind, treasonous to the Constitution acts in the history of Congress. I still think it is unconstitutional, but my opinion doesn't really matter.

              I think we've strayed far from the Constitution, our civil liberties and the rights supposedly provided in the Bill of Rights.

              Legal technicalities, intricately woven, justify everything.  It's like angels dancing on the head of a pin and missing the fact that God is Love.  Legal technicalities justify Huge Government and miss the spirit and intent of the Bill of Rights.

              "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

              by YucatanMan on Thu Jul 04, 2013 at 10:22:36 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  under old law (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                DSPS owl

                each disclosure without a warrant could have cost telecomms 10,000.

                By providing them with retroactive immunity, the Congress denied a large number of Americans a large amount of money.

                That means we were deprived of property.

                Except that those fines were to be paid to the Federal government.  Still, a finding of a violation of law could have served as prima facie evidence to be used in civil suits on behalf of the people.

                But, unless that law were to be declared unconstitutional, it is covered by the "due process of law" clause of the 5th Amendment.

                And while the text (originalist) of the ban on ex post facto laws does not distinguish between criminalizing ex post facto and decriminalizing, the clear intent of the clause was in the criminal regime.

                I have argued that the President should have been forced to use his pardon power

                "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

                by teacherken on Thu Jul 04, 2013 at 11:04:50 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

        •  "Privacy" in highly visible information? (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          otto, caul

          Aside from the legally dubious "right to privacy" -- which requires stretching the 4th Amendment -- the information on the outside of an envelope is not considered private information because it is available easily to many people. That's why we use envelopes, so the real info is tucked inside out of sight. It may be rude to rifle through your roommate's mail, but as long as you don't open it, you're only seeing things that anyone can see.

          What is offensive to me is the government collecting, storing, and using computer programs to analyze and correlate data that enables them to monitor who my "associates" are, what organizations I participate in (or at least get mail from), etc. etc. etc. That's totalitarian, and designed to control and intimidate.

          On top of that, the data-collection is far from accurate. I regularly get mail, thanks to the automated sorting machine, for someone with a different name, at a similar street name, in a different zip code. But it's been carefully machine-coded with my 9-digit zip.

          •  Plus there is the whole (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            DSPS owl

            six degrees of separation problem -- not only with whom you associate or to what organizations you belong, but with whom your "associates" associate and with what organizations your organizations and their members associate or belong.  

            Guilt by association is a very slippery slope.

            Is it courageous to propose tax cuts but not identify a single tax expenditure to rein in? Is it courageous to target your deepest cuts on the poorest Americans, who vote in lower numbers and provide little in campaign contributions?

            by caul on Thu Jul 04, 2013 at 09:02:50 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  How long is the imaging data kept for? (9+ / 0-)

        The Postal Service only needs it for character recognition, then it is coded and sent on its way. If it fails this then it is hand coded.

        Is the mail also keyed with the physical location of posting? Does the NSA have accessibility to the computers doing the imaging or is that done by the Postal Service and then sent to the NSA offices?

        The answers to these questions will tell us how far the practices of the postal service go beyond what is actually required for automated mail sorting.

      •  Not only by hand (6+ / 0-)

        but the postal workers should be blindfolded. That way, no one from the government will be able to see who I'm sending letters to!

    •  I couldn't agree more... (7+ / 0-)

      The only "necessity" I see here is for corporations to sell this new technology to someone who can afford to buy it, i.e., our esteemed government.

      It's a perfect marriage. Corporations and LTDs -- who form for the specific purpose of gaining fat government contracts -- who want to make easy money off over-inflated contract premiums from the government. Paired with the government that never passes by an opportunity to use tax payer money to gain more control over American citizens.

      As a result, the American People are not only making big corporations filthy rich - we're also financing their own dystopic future.

      That twofer doesn't bode well for us.

      'Cuz freedom cannot protect itself ~~ EFF ~ EPIC ~ ACLU

      by markthshark on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 09:06:52 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I appreciate the conversation. (7+ / 0-)

        But I'm not sure I understand the argument. Does the conduct of the Postal Service mean we are, or we are not going to have a dystopic future?

        Get back to me when you can.

        Thanks, Mark.

        "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness." John Kenneth Galbraith

        by LeftOfYou on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 09:33:58 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I appreciate the comprehensive explanation... (4+ / 0-)

          of the process.

          I just feel it's another aspect of technology generally prone to misuse and exploitation by the executive branch with few protections included.

          If it is ever legislated with proper constitutional considerations attached it would both quell privacy concerns, and probably make the system more efficient overall. Of course, our Congress is static on the subject. They actually have an incentive for inaction. After all, they have post-congressional careers to worry about.

          All these programs are due a comprehensive, agency-wide review. Both in how they correlate with each other and the influence corporations have over "security" concerns.

          'Cuz freedom cannot protect itself ~~ EFF ~ EPIC ~ ACLU

          by markthshark on Thu Jul 04, 2013 at 12:20:45 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  I was the victim of identity theft as as result of (45+ / 0-)

      mail stolen from my residential mail box, as were many others in the area. The perps were found, prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to prison through the assistance of the postal service and the tracking system.

      "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's the thing you know for sure that just ain't so." Mark Twain

      by Expat Okie on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 09:08:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That is great for you and your neighbors. (0+ / 0-)

        I know how much trouble my nephew went through for a long time when he was the victim of identity theft.  However, that just shows that such systems can be used for good.  It doesn't negate that they also can be used for evil.  (And I am aware that you didn't suggest that directly.)

        The Republicans are defunding, not defending, America.

        by DSPS owl on Thu Jul 04, 2013 at 01:32:18 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Economic necessity, not national security (16+ / 0-)

      necessity.  The Republicans are trying to kill the Post Office.  The scanning system is a cost cutting device.  

      We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately. B. Franklin

      by Observerinvancouver on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 09:30:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Actually, Dumbo, I do see the necessity. (12+ / 0-)

      LeftOfYou makes an excellent case for that - and one I agree with in many ways.

      What I don't see - and where I believe this diary falls down a bit - is how all the laws pertaining to the USPS' system have any relevance to whether or not NSA gets their hands on this trove of metadata.

      This information is - literally - a treasure trove, for those who compile information on us.  The metadata and the inferences that can be drawn from it - in combination with all the rest of what is collected on us - has immense value.

      And if NSA, James Claptrap, et alia, are willing to outright lie to Congress - and know that they can get away with it - why wouldn't they want, and get, that information?

      There are apparently many laws about which we know nothing - and even if the diarist's credentials in this area are impeccable, that doesn't mean (s)he knows of them any more than we do.  I find it less than marginally credible that if NSA pushed hard enough to get the USPS metadata, they would be denied.

      And I find it entirely credible that we'd never hear about it.

      It ain't called paranoia - when they're really out to get you. 6 points.

      by Jaime Frontero on Thu Jul 04, 2013 at 02:44:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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