Monday, July 8, 2013

Playing post office

So you plan on going "off the grid" in order to keep the government from keeping tabs on you. Los federales are storing all the metadata from every e-mail they can get their hands on. An NSA storage facility is being built in Utah so that the government can store every phone call.

Just don't count on your snail mail being secure.

Leslie Pickering of Buffalo, New York had no reason to believe that the government was poking around his postal business. That is, until he received a card in the mail by mistake alerting postal employees to flag all mail and packages sent to his home.

Welcome to the world of mail covers. Long before electronic surveillance there was another way in which the government kept tabs on who you communicated with. With just a letter to the postal service, law enforcement agencies can find out who's been sending you mail and packages.

While the letters and packages can't be opened without a warrant, the "metadata" on your snail mail can tell someone an awful lot about you - aside from the generic junk mail that accumulates in your mailbox. Who are you getting mail from? Letters? Packages? Zip codes?

In the old days the police would only send out the mail cover request when investigating a crime. But now, thanks to the War on the Constitution Terror, it's open season on privacy and your pen pals are in the crosshairs.

The simple fact of the matter is that we no longer have a reasonable expectation of privacy in anything. Our e-mails are monitored. The NSA intercepts and stores millions of telephone conversations. And Big Brother is peeking over your shoulder at the return address label on your mail.

I have said it before, and I will say it again, it's time to rethink our privacy paradigm. Maybe it's time to go back to the actual wording of the Fourth Amendment. Persons. Houses. Papers. Effects. Enough of the reasonable expectation of privacy. Enough of crafting metaphors for what computers and cell phones are.

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