Facial recognition, fake identities and digital surveillance tools: Inside the post office’s covert internet operations program
(Jana Winter •Contributor Tue, May 18, 2021, 5:42 PM•)
The post office’s law enforcement arm has faced intense congressional scrutiny in recent weeks over its Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP), which tracks social media posts of Americans and shares that information with other law enforcement agencies. Yet the program is much broader in scope than previously known and includes analysts who assume fake identities online, use sophisticated intelligence tools and employ facial recognition software, according to interviews and documents reviewed by Yahoo News.
Among the tools used by the analysts is Clearview AI, a facial recognition software that scrapes images off public websites, a practice that has raised the ire of privacy advocates. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service uses Clearview’s facial recognition database of over 3 billion images from arrest photos collected from across social media “to help identify unknown targets in an investigation or locate additional social media accounts for known individuals,” according to materials reviewed by Yahoo News.
Software, which it uses to run keyword searches on social media event pages to identify potential threats from upcoming scheduled protests, according to Inspection Service documents. It also uses Nfusion, another software program, to create and maintain anonymous, untraceable email and social media accounts.
The Inspection Service’s expansive surveillance program has raised concerns among lawmakers and privacy and civil liberties experts, and the use of sophisticated software tools raises even more questions.
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service appears to be putting significant resources into covert monitoring of social media and the creation and use of undercover accounts. If these efforts are directed toward surveilling lawful protesters, the public and Congress need to know why this is happening, under what authority and subject to what kinds of oversight and protections,” said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, deputy director of the Liberty & National Security Program of the Brennan Center for Justice.