The United States Postal Inspection Service took it upon itself to scour social media and monitor posts regarding protests held by those with allegedly conservative or anti-Biden views, according to a report from the Washington Times.
Through a Freedom of Information request, the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, acquired some heavily redacted documents related to the activities of the so-called USPS Internet Covert Operations Program, or iCOP, the existence of which was first made public in the spring of 2021.
The released documents indicate that between September 2020 and April 2021, those involved with iCOP had been searching through various social media platforms, ostensibly “to provide information surrounding the potential for violence or criminal activity to take place in order to allow law enforcement to take any appropriate action within their jurisdiction.”
Though nearly all of the text contained within the documents has been obscured, what can be seen suggests that iCOP specifically targeted social media activities related to conservative-leaning protests, especially those arranged to demonstrate opposition to Joe Biden and/or his inauguration.
For example, on November 10, 2020, a week after Election Day, one iCOP bulletin references the “Million MAGA March” which was scheduled to be held in Washington, D.C., a few days later.
There is also elsewhere a note about a “Right-Wing Extremist Website Organizing Violent Action on Inauguration Day” in January 2021, though no other information about the event or iCOP’s risk assessment of it can be seen.
Other bulletins mention threats against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, alleged online recruitment for militia groups, “national civil unrest,” a possible threat made against Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, the potential for protests during and after the Derek Chauvin trial, and a gun rights celebration called “Lobby Day.” One bulletin even discusses the temporary suspension of the social media app Parler just before President Biden’s inauguration, claiming that taking Parler dark would “very likely inhibit efforts to plan a coordinated protest” like the one that occurred on January 6, 2021.
Though iCOP explicitly states in the bulletins that the USPIS “recognizes individuals constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech, assembly, and to petition the government” and that it has no desire “to infringe, in any way, protected activities,” many have argued that the iCOP surveillance is illegal. In March 2022, the Postal Service Office of Inspector General said that “certain proactive searches iCOP conducted using an open-source intelligence tool from February to April 2021 exceeded the Postal Inspection Service’s law enforcement authority.”
None of the postings visible in the redacted bulletins indicate that iCOP conducted similar surveillance of left-leaning events or social media activity. It is unclear whether iCOP is still in operation.