A story in the New York Times published Wednesday, July 3, tells the story of Buffalo, New York resident, Leslie James Pickering. Pickering reports that last September he noticed “something odd in his mail:” a “handwritten card, apparently delivered by mistake, with instructions for postal workers to pay special attention to the letters and packages sent to his home,” the Times story claims.
The card — a picture of which appears in the Times story — appears to read: “Show all mail to supv” — supervisor — “for copying prior to going out on the street.” Pickering’s name was written on the card, as well as the word “Confidential,” written in green ink. Apparently, Pickering was the unwitting target of a “longtime surveillance system” the Times calls “mail covers.”
It doesn’t stop there, however. While snail mail surveillance has been a tool of law enforcement for over a century, the program that targeted Pickering is called Mail Isolation Control and Tracking. As part of this surveillance tactic, the “Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year. It is not known how long the government saves the images.”