Perhaps you are under the impression that if you do not use email or the telephone, both of which we now know subject you to government surveillance, you can fly under the spies' radar. Perhaps you think a postcard sent to your sick grandmother in Ohio is free from bureaucratic scrutiny. You are wrong.
According to a just-published New York Times story, the American government is keeping track of your snail mail the same way it's keeping track of all your other channels of communication. Under two programs known as "mail covers" and the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program (MICT), the United States photographs the exterior of every piece of mail sent—" about 160 billion pieces last year"—and then saves the photos for review for an indeterminate amount of time.
Though they've existed for years—MICT was created after 2001's mailed anthrax attacks killed five people—the mail surveillance programs came to light last month, when the FBI referenced them in their investigations into ricin-tainted letters sent to President Obama and Michael Bloomberg. And while a federal judge must sign off on governmental wiretapping requests, the only thing authorities need to do to check out your mail is ask the U.S. Postal Service, which "rarely denies a request," according to the Times.
Perhaps you're thinking, "Well, at least the government can only take a picture of my letters. They can't just open my mail." You're wrong there, too, thanks to Dubya.
Law enforcement officials need warrants to open the mail, although President George W. Bush asserted in a signing statement in 2007 that the federal government had the authority to open mail without warrants in emergencies or foreign intelligence cases.
Basically, if you've got a secret/illegal thing to tell someone in today's America, best to do it by carrier pigeon or smoke signal. Good luck.
[Image via AP]