The U.S. Postal Service is using facial recognition from controversial company Clearview AI and fake identities online to snoop on Americans, a new report reveals.
Under its law enforcement arm, analysts are reported to use intelligence tools to track social media posts and share their results with other agencies, Yahoo reports.
The Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP) was first revealed in April when it came under scrutiny for tracking Americans’ social media posts ahead of protests.
Now it emerges iCOP – which is believed to date back to 2018 – is more far reaching than previously thought.
The United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) is said to use Clearview AI to ‘help identify unknown targets in an investigation or locate additional social media accounts for known individuals’, Yahoo reports.
It also uses Zignal Labs – which runs keyword searches on possible threats – and Nfusion – which creates anonymous online accounts – in its tracking, according to the site.
In March Clearview AI was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union, contending it illegally stockpiled images of 3 billion people scraped from internet sites without their knowledge or permission.
For many, news of that stockpile raised concerns that the type of surveillance seen in China could happen in the U.S. and other countries.
DailyMail.com has contacted USPIS for comment.
The U.S. Postal Service is using facial recognition from controversial company Clearview AI and fake identities online to snoop on Americans, a new report reveals
In March Clearview AI was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union, contending it illegally stockpiled images of 3 billion people scraped from internet sites without their knowledge or permission
Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That has said his company collects only publicly available photos from the open internet that are accessible ‘from any computer anywhere in the world.’ He said its database cannot be used for surveillance
At least seven states and nearly two dozen cities have limited government use of Clearview’s technology amid fears over civil rights violations, racial bias and invasion of privacy.
CEO Hoan Ton-That said his company collects only publicly available photos from the open internet that are accessible ‘from any computer anywhere in the world.’ He said its database cannot be used for surveillance.
But Rachel Levinson-Waldman, deputy director of the Liberty & National Security Program of the Brennan Center for Justice, said: ‘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.’
The USPS is said to use Clearview AI to ‘help identify unknown targets in an investigation or locate additional social media accounts for known individuals’, Yahoo reports. It also uses Zignal Labs – which runs keyword searches on possible threat
And it uses Nfusion – which creates anonymous online accounts – in its tracking, report says
The Inspection Service said the tools used are ‘standard law enforcement techniques’. They say their use is ‘strictly controlled relative to the investigation of criminal suspects and criminal activities’.
They added: ‘This review of publicly available open source information, including news reports and social media, is one piece of a comprehensive security and threat analysis, and the information obtained is the same information anyone can access as a private citizen.
‘News report and social media listening activity helps protect the 644,000 men and women who work for the Postal Service by ensuring they are able to avoid potentially volatile situations while working to process and deliver the nation’s mail every day.’
Clearview AI said it is ‘honored’ to work with ‘3,100 law enforcement agencies around the United States to help them identify countless criminals, from pedophiles, serial fraudsters, and murderers’.
The USPS has already faced backlash over its social media spying operation
But the USPS has already faced backlash over its social media spying operation.
‘Let that sink in … an entity [whose] sole purpose is to deliver mail and packages is spying on American citizens,’ Dustin Isenhour posted on Facebook. ‘Our government has grown so large that its postal service has a law enforcement arm. Time to wake up people.’
‘This is NOT ok,’ Martha Bueno tweeted. ‘How many agencies are spying on us and why? Land of the free? Methinks not.’
‘At this point, every government agency and associates are spying on Americans,’ added one Twitter user with the handle @ultrapurwater.
A leaked bulletin first reported by Yahoo News details how the US Postal Inspection Service collected data as part of the Internet Covert Operations Program or iCOP
Analysts are said to have looked through posts on Facebook, Parler and Telegram before flagging ‘inflammatory’ messages to government agencies
Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale last month briefed lawmakers on the Oversight Committee on iCOP.
That came after Yahoo published documents related to the program, which showed how analysts page through social media sites to look for ‘inflammatory’ posts, including messages about planned protests.
The program is not thought to have led to any arrests thought it’s still unclear how long it has been operating.
‘Analysts with the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP) monitored significant activity regarding planned protests occurring internationally and domestically on March 20, 2021,’ a March 16 government bulletin, marked as ‘law enforcement sensitive’, reads.
The bulletin focuses on a March 20 protest, the World Wide Rally for Freedom and Democracy which demonstrated against COVID lockdowns.
‘Locations and times have been identified for these protests, which are being distributed online across multiple social media platforms, to include right-wing leaning Parler and Telegram accounts,’ it continues, but later notes: ‘No intelligence is available to suggest the legitimacy of these threats.’
The bulletin, distributed through the Department of Homeland Security’s fusion centers, includes screenshots of posts from Facebook, Parler, Telegram and other social media sites about the protests.
It does not appear any of the posts from the bulletin, including one from an alleged Proud Boy, contain any threatening language.
Individuals, who were mentioned by name and other identifying information.
Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale last month briefed lawmakers on the Oversight Committee on iCOP
The USPS was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. In August 2020 it reported losing $2.2 billion in the three months that ended in June.
When reached about the law enforcement arm of USPS in April, the US Postal Inspection Service told Yahoo: ‘The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is the primary law enforcement, crime prevention, and security arm of the U.S. Postal Service.’
‘As such, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service has federal law enforcement officers, Postal Inspectors, who enforce approximately 200 federal laws to achieve the agency’s mission: protect the U.S. Postal Service and its employees, infrastructure, and customers; enforce the laws that defend the nation’s mail system from illegal or dangerous use; and ensure public trust in the mail.
They added: ‘The Internet Covert Operations Program 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,.
‘Additionally, the Inspection Service collaborates with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to proactively identify and assess potential threats to the Postal Service, its employees and customers, and its overall mail processing and transportation network.
‘In order to preserve operational effectiveness, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service does not discuss its protocols, investigative methods, or tools.’
HOW DOES FACIAL RECOGNITION TECHNOLOGY WORK?
Facial recognition software works by matching real time images to a previous photograph of a person.
Each face has approximately 80 unique nodal points across the eyes, nose, cheeks and mouth which distinguish one person from another.
A digital video camera measures the distance between various points on the human face, such as the width of the nose, depth of the eye sockets, distance between the eyes and shape of the jawline.
A different smart surveillance system (pictured) can scan 2 billion faces within seconds has been revealed in China. The system connects to millions of CCTV cameras and uses artificial intelligence to pick out targets. The military is working on applying a similar version of this with AI to track people across the country
This produces a unique numerical code that can then be linked with a matching code gleaned from a previous photograph.
A facial recognition system used by officials in China connects to millions of CCTV cameras and uses artificial intelligence to pick out targets.
Experts believe that facial recognition technology will soon overtake fingerprint technology as the most effective way to identify people.