In a rare public accounting of its mass surveillance program, the U.S. Postal Service approved nearly 50,000 requests last year from law enforcement agencies and its own internal inspection unit to monitor Americans’ mail secretly for criminal and national security investigations, the New York Times reports. The number of requests, cited in a new audit by the Postal Service's inspector general, shows that the surveillance program is more extensive than previously disclosed and that oversight protecting citizens from potential abuses is lax.
The program has played an important role in the nation's vast surveillance effort since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The audit found that in many cases the Postal Service approved requests to monitor an individual's mail without adequately describing the reason or having proper written authorization. The audit questioned the agency’s efficiency and accuracy in handling the requests. Many requests were not processed in time, the audit said, and computer errors caused the same tracking number to be assigned to different surveillance requests.