Lawmakers request investigation into Postal Service's covert operations program

May 25, 2021
In The News

The bipartisan leaders of the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Tuesday requested an investigation into a branch of the U.S. Postal Service in the wake of reports that it carried out online surveillance of Americans’ social media posts. 

Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and ranking member James Comer (R-Ky.) sent a letter to Postal Service Inspector General Tammy Whitcomb urging her to open an investigation in the Postal Services' Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP). 

The request comes a month after Yahoo News reported on a March bulletin sent out by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS). The bulletin cited iCOP concerns about potential protests planned for March 20 based on “online inflammatory material” and posts on social media platforms Parler and Telegram, and noted that iCOP was “currently monitoring these social media channels for any potential threats.”

Maloney and Comer on Tuesday expressed “concern” that iCOP was being used to “perform intelligence operations on First Amendment activity.”

“These activities raise serious questions about the scope of the program, the extent of sharing of information among law enforcement agencies, and whether USPIS has the authority to conduct such an operation,” the committee leaders wrote.

The investigation comes after Comer and more than 30 House Republicans sent a letter in April to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy requesting a briefing on iCOP.

Maloney and Comer noted USPIS had confirmed during briefings with staff members that it had been monitoring social media platforms for “inflammatory” materials and sharing these posts with federal authorities. 

“We understand that USPIS has a critical law enforcement responsibility to protect the people and facilities of the Postal Service,” the committee leaders wrote. “We also appreciate that since reports of iCOP being used in connection with First Amendment activity have become public, USPIS has put certain safeguards in place and is reviewing additional ways to protect First Amendment activities. Nevertheless, significant questions about iCOP remain.”

Maloney and Comer asked for a response by June 4 on the investigation into iCOP would be undertaken, and a timeline of how long it would take. 

The Postal Service did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment on the letter. 

The committee leaders are not the only lawmakers to express concerns stemming from iCOP’s operations.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and a group of other House Republicans introduced legislation last month that would defund the iCOP program by prohibiting the use of federal funds for its operations. The legislation’s text accused USPS of “operating a clandestine domestic surveillance program of Americans’ social media activity.”

A spokesperson for the Postal Service told The Hill at the time the legislation was introduced that the agency “occasionally reviews publicly available information in order to assess potential safety or security threats to Postal Service employees, facilities, operations and infrastructure.”