The law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service has been quietly running a program that tracks and collects Americans’ social media posts, including those about planned protests, according to a document obtained by Yahoo News.
The details of the surveillance effort, known as iCOP, or Internet Covert Operations Program, have not previously been made public. The work involves having analysts trawl through social media sites to look for what the document describes as “inflammatory” postings and then sharing that information across government agencies.
The government’s monitoring of Americans’ social media is the subject of ongoing debate inside and outside government, particularly in recent months, following a rise in domestic unrest. While posts on platforms such as Facebook and Parler have allowed law enforcement to track down and arrest rioters who assaulted the Capitol on Jan. 6, such data collection has also sparked concerns about the government surveilling peaceful protesters or those engaged in protected First Amendment activities.
The Postal Service isn’t the only part of government expanding its monitoring of social media. In a background call with reporters last month, DHS officials spoke about that department’s involvement in monitoring social media for domestic terrorism threats. “We know that this threat is fueled mainly by false narratives, conspiracy theories and extremist rhetoric read through social media and other online platforms,” one of the officials said. “And that’s why we’re kicking off engagement directly with social media companies.”