Thursday, July 11, 2013

You’ve Got Mail

Every now and again a story pops up that somebody had received a letter or a postcard that took decades to deliver.    It’s a relatively innocuous story that reinforces the popular conception of the incompetency of the U.S. Postal system while delivering a warm-fuzzy story of a long lost message finally finding its home.  I’ve advocated that as a quasi-private organization the USPS needs to be unshackled from the constraints that Congress puts on it and be allowed to operate as a stand-alone entity.  I learned this week that it’s not at all private.  The Post Office logs every single letter and package sent.  And they’ve been doing it for years.
The New York Times reported last week that the United States Postal Service takes a photo of the exterior every single piece of mail that goes through its system, 160 billion pieces last year.  The information is sent to any law enforcement agency that asks for it.  Tens of thousands of pieces of mail each year undergo this scrutiny.  Using this system the FBI was able to successfully track down the sender of the ricin letters.
The story was published on July 3rd and has not received much attention.  At least the PRISM/NSA surveillance got wide attention.  Given that a majority of people polled are OK with the Government gathering information on emails and phone calls, it is likely that an even greater percentage will shrug their collective shoulders over the USPS program.
Does it matter much if the government logs the envelopes of holiday or birthday cards that I send?  Just like the details of whom I call and whom I email with is far from scintillating – the answer is a simple and resounding no.  That’s not the point.
As an American I am protected from unreasonable searches and seizures.  Looking and tracking my communications without any reason or provocation seems the essence of unreasonable.  As an American I’m afforded free speech.  It just seems wrong to have the Government track what I say and to whom I say it to.  It’s not like things could ever go wrong, right?
Case in point:  the teenager who was in an argument on Facebook with a friend about a videogame.  He posted a stupid and sarcastic comment followed by LOL and J/K (Laugh out Loud and Just Kidding for the non-acronym readers) indicating that the comment  was a joke.  He’s been in jail for over 5 months charged as a terrorist.  There’s no other evidence than his exercise of free speech.  He's not the only one jailed for their status updates.  Bill Cosby once hosted a TV show “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”  I wonder how many of those kids would be arrested and jailed today for being stupid.

I’m not afraid of the Government finding anything out about me.  But they should have to work hard and have a really good reason to find out how boring my life is.  Having every form of communication monitored is not what our Founders envisioned.  I used to enjoy the AOL  “you’ve got mail” announcement – never thought that I'd be hearing it from the Obama administration.

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