Big Brother Goes Postal

The U.S. Postal Service's official logo proudly features a sharp-eyed American eagle. Most Americans would be shocked and amazed, however, to learn that we are the ones getting the eagle eye from the post office. This is another sorry case of police power running amuck, now intruding so deeply into our personal liberties and privacy that federal authorities are compelling even well-meaning postal clerks to be surveillance snitches on their own customers. These authorities say they want to combat money laundering. Fine. Not so fine, however, is that they are targeting innocent citizens who buy money orders or make other money transactions at our post offices. Through a special surveillance program called "Under the Eagle's Eye," clerks are being trained to watch for "suspicious activity" and to file a report on such customers. What qualifies as "suspicious"? Insight magazine obtained Postal Service training materials that instruct clerks thusly: "The rule of thumb is if it seems suspicious to you, then it is suspicious." Did someone buy $2,500 worth of money orders three days in a row? Suspicious. Did someone buy $25,000 worth of credit for the office postage meter? Suspicious. These are most likely to be perfectly legitimate transactions, but clerks are told they must assume criminality, fill out a suspicious activity form and report the customer. Forget "innocent until proven guilty"; a postal clerk's report on you can be zipped to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and be distributed to police agencies worldwide without you even being informed. In the training materials, clerks are told that "it's better to report 10 legal transactions than to let one illegal transaction get by." Under the Eagle's Eye" is an all-out assault on our privacy. As an American Civil Liberties Union spokesman put it: "This training will result in the reporting to the government of tens of thousands of innocent transactions that are none of the government's business."

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