By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent
The Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are the two top users of the United States Postal Service’s mail surveillance program, The New York Times has disclosed.
The Times, which published a detailed article on the “mail cover” program last year, published a follow-up story Aug. 14.
That account disclosed details of a critical 2014 Office of Inspector General’s Audit of the program.
When the audit was posted on the inspector general’s website in 2014, details of the program were deleted, presumably on the grounds of national security.
Among the items not disclosed were the names of the federal agencies that regularly use the program to investigate criminal suspects.
The program allows postal employees to record the names, return addresses and other information on the outside of letters and packages. Opening the mails would require a search warrant under federal law.
In all, the audit said the U.S. Postal Inspection Service reviewed 49,000 pieces of mail in fiscal 2013.
According to a non-redacted version of the audit, which the Times obtained from a researcher, the IRS was the biggest user of mail covers, using them in 1,323 cases in fiscal 2013.
The IRS was followed by the FBI, which had 1,025 cover cases that year.
The Drug Enforcement Administration had 758 that year, followed by the Department of Homeland Security, which had 469, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of Homeland Security, which had 81.
All four federal agencies had declined a request from the Times for details on their use of the program.
The 2014 audit was highly critical of how the U.S. Postal Inspection Service handled requests for mail covers, saying the service failed to follow regulations concerning how the program should be run and did so with personnel who had not been properly trained for the job.
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