The Postal Service has secretly combed through the online expression of social media users, raising concerns about chilling the privacy and expressive activity of internet users. EFF filed a Freedom of Information Action (FOIA) suit to learn more about the program.
On April 21, 2021, Yahoo News reported that the USPS’s law enforcement arm, USPIS, operates a social-media surveillance program. The report described how USPIS’s program sorts through massive amounts of data created by social media users to surveil their expression. The report provided little explanation as to the program’s purpose, any legal justifications for the program, or any safeguards used to protect people’s civil liberties. This shadowy surveillance program has likely swept up internet users’ speech on Facebook, Twitter, and other popular social media sites.
Social media monitoring has serious consequences for all internet users’ civil liberties. Social media monitoring chills and suppresses speech online: when users know they are being monitored, they frequently self-censor out of fear that any and all online speech can be used to discipline, control, or harm them. Social media monitoring also enables officials to misuse people’s social media activity as a potential source of leverage and control. This surveillance exercises control regardless of whether speech is unprotected and regardless of its political, cultural, sexual, and personal value. Through a combination of overbroad data collection and analysis, social media monitoring renders suspicious what is otherwise banal. Social media surveillance can combining a users’ disparate speech on different platforms and can make practically obscure expression easily available to prying government eyes. Social media monitoring in this way threatens constitutional guarantees of free expression and privacy.