Gaetz, House Republicans introduce bill to defund Postal Service covert operations program
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and a group of other House Republicans on Friday introduced legislation to end funding for an arm of the U.S. Postal Service that carries out online surveillance.
The legislation was rolled out in response to a March bulletin, reported by Yahoo News earlier this month, distributed by the Postal Service’s Inspection Service’s Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP). The bulletin cited iCOP concerns about potential “significant” protests planned for March 20 based on “online inflammatory material” and posts on social media platforms Parler and Telegram.
“iCOP analysts are currently monitoring these social media channels for any potential threats stemming from the scheduled protests and will disseminate intelligence updates if needed," the agency wrote in the bulletin.
The new bill backed by almost a dozen House Republicans would prohibit federal funds from being used for iCOP. The legislation’s text accuses the organization of being “politically motivated in its target,” and the USPS of “operating a clandestine domestic surveillance program of Americans’ social media activity.”
Gaetz said in a statement Friday that “the Postal Service should deliver the mail on time and on budget.”
“They shouldn’t have a covert surveillance program to monitor social media political behavior, protected by our cherished Constitution,” he said. “As the dangers of government surveillance and targeting become ever the more clear, especially to conservatives, Congress must immediately abolish this program.”
Other bill sponsors include GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Scott Perry (Pa.), Greg Steube (Fla.), Ken Buck (Colo.), Tim Burchett (Tenn.) and Thomas Massie (Ky.).
Gaetz — who is currently under investigation by the Justice Department in connection with sex trafficking allegations — along with several of the co-sponsors have accounts on Parler, a popular social media platform removed from both Google's and Apple’s app stores in the wake of the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol for content moderation concerns. Apple restored the app earlier this month.
A spokesperson for the Postal Service pushed back against Republican concerns, noting in a statement provided to The Hill on Friday 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.”
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is the primary law enforcement, crime prevention, and security arm of the U.S. Postal Service,” the spokesperson said. “As such, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service has federal law enforcement officers, Postal Inspectors, who enforce approximately 200 federal laws to achieve the agency’s mission: protect the U.S. Postal Service and its employees, infrastructure, and customers; enforce the laws that defend the nation's mail system from illegal or dangerous use; and ensure public trust in the mail."
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service also employs uniformed Postal Police Officers who are assigned to protect select postal facilities, including postal employees, postal assets, and U.S. mail, at those facilities,” the spokesperson added.
Yahoo News reported separately that the Postal Service briefed members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee on iCOP surveillance concerns earlier this week.
The briefing was the result of a request in a letter sent to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy last week by more than 30 House Republicans, including Gaetz and committee ranking member James Comer (R-Ky.), listing concerns around iCOP.
“The United States is not lacking in its availability of intelligence agencies, and it should be left to those professionals to engage in this sort of behavior, if it is even necessary at all,” the House Republicans wrote. “Truly, it is baffling why America’s postal service would be involved in this kind of coordinated, intensive review of its citizens’ online activity.”