By Katabella Roberts
The resolution failed along party lines by a vote of 23–18 during a House Oversight and Reform Committee meeting,
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, (D-N.Y.) the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, said the proposal would “do nothing to protect the First Amendment.”
The proposal was introduced by Rep. Andrew Clyde, (R-Ga.) after reports emerged back in April 2021 that the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service, known as the Internet Covert Operations Program, or iCOP, had been quietly monitoring Americans’ social media posts, including those regarding planned protests both domestically and abroad.
According to the report, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service law enforcement arm was trawling through social media sites to find posts that were “inflammatory” and then passing that information on to government agencies via bulletins.
The proposal was introduced by Rep. Andrew Clyde, (R-Ga.) after reports emerged back in April 2021 that a function within the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, known as the Internet Covert Operations Program, or iCOP, had been quietly monitoring Americans’ social media posts, including those regarding planned protests both domestically and abroad.
It added that the iCOP is a “function within the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which assesses threats to Postal Service employees and its infrastructure by monitoring publicly available open source information.”
However, a further report by Politico later found that iCOP was sending out bulletins to law enforcement officials regarding social media posts pertaining to the Jan. 6, 2021, breach of the U.S. Capitol, including those that had been deleted.
USPS Hacks Phones
A separate report earlier this year found that USPIS had been using sophisticated tools to hack into seized iPhones.
The existence of iCOP has raised concerns among privacy advocates and USPS was swiftly inundated with lawsuits from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Judicial Watch, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), and the James Madison Project over the program.
An inspector general report was subsequently conducted and released in March which found that iCOP did not have the legal authority to conduct mass surveillance of American protestors and others and that it had “exceeded the Postal Inspection Service’s law enforcement authority.”
Months later in September, the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C.-headquartered libertarian think tank obtained reports detailing iCOP’s tracking and surveillance of gun rights activists and conservative groups opposed to President Joe Biden.
On Tuesday, GOP lawmakers raised concerns over the actions of USPS while calling on Democrats to request more information regarding the postal service’s surveillance program, particularly of conservative Americans.
“I’m incredibly concerned … at the actions taken by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service for potentially, allegedly targeting conservative-leaning individuals in the pro-life group, various pro-life groups or Second Amendment groups,” said Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.). “The Postal Inspection Service has a mission, and quite frankly, they are far outside of their mission if these accusations are in fact true.”
Ultimately though, Democrats rejected the move, with Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) noting that while she believes “strongly in protecting Americans’ First Amendment rights,” and is against “inappropriate surveillance of peaceful protests and other First Amendment activity,” the highly partisan resolution is “unnecessary and misdirected,” and it would do nothing to protect American’s freedom of speech.
In a statement to Fox News, the Postal Inspection Service said: “In order to preserve operational effectiveness, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service does not discuss its protocols, investigative methods or tools.”