The next time you go to the Post Office to purchase a money order, you
could get secretly reported to the federal government as a potential drug
dealer, terrorist, or money-launderer, the Libertarian Party warned today.
It's part of a massive customer surveillance program called "Under the Eagle's Eye," which has been covertly monitoring Americans -- especially minorities and the poor -- for the past four years.
"The Post Office has gone postal on your privacy," said Steve Dasbach, national director of the Libertarian Party. "Instead of simply delivering mail, the Post Office is teaching its employees to spy like an eagle on its customers. And you could end up in a government database as a potential criminal without even knowing it."
The Under the Eagle's Eye program, which has been in effect since 1997, trains postal clerks to watch for customers who act "suspiciously" while purchasing money orders, making wire transfers, or buying cash cards.
According to Post Office rules, "suspicious" activity could include counting money in line, purchasing a large money order, or purchasing several smaller money orders. However, the Post Office refuses to disclose the full parameters used to determine suspicious activity, saying it is a law enforcement secret.
But a customer does not need to meet any legal definition of suspicious activity -- such as "beyond reasonable doubt" -- to be reported to the government, according to the Under the Eagle's Eye manual. Instead, "if it seems suspicious to you, then it is suspicious," the manual tells postal employees.
Clerks are instructed that it is "better to report 10 legal transactions than to let one illegal transaction get by."
If a customer does act "suspiciously," postal employees are required to fill out government Form 8105-B, also called a Suspicious Activity Report. The form includes a description of the customer and his or her car's license plate number, if possible. Form 8105-Bs are then sent to the Treasury Department or stored in a Post Office database for at least five years.
"It's frightening that postal clerks have the power to report you to the FBI, the IRS, the DEA, or the Treasury Department as a suspected drug dealer or money launderer simply because you've purchased a money order," said Dasbach.
The program is an offshoot of Bank Secrecy Act regulations, created in 1997 by the Treasury Department. The regulations are supposedly designed to detect illegal money laundering, to track drug-related money, and to catch terrorists.
Although officials decline to reveal how many "suspicious" customers have been reported to law enforcement, the Post Office sells about $9 billion in money orders a year. This means that tens or hundreds of thousands of Americans may have been identified as potential drug dealers or money-launderers by postal employees.
And a disproportionate number of those suspects are poor people, immigrants, or minorities, noted Dasbach -- since those groups have less access to bank accounts, and are more likely to send money orders to foreign relatives.
"The Under the Eagle's Eye program is not just reprehensible because it spies on Americans, it's reprehensible because it spies on the poorest, most vulnerable Americans," he said. "It's especially shameful that immigrants -- many of whom fled to America to escape oppressive governments -- are spied on by our own government."
The Post Office refuses to disclose how many criminals it has apprehended because of the Under the Eagle's Eye program. However, a similar program which requires banks to monitor suspicious financial activity generates 99,999 reports on innocent customers for every one report on a law-breaker, according to the National Economic Council.
If that ratio is the same for the Post Office -- and there's no reason to believe otherwise -- then the Under the Eagle's Eye program is infringing on innocent Americans' privacy on a massive scale, noted Dasbach.
"The idea of treating everyone who buys a money order as a criminal suspect is outrageous," he said. "That's the reverse of the way things are supposed to work in America, where we believe it's better to let 10 guilty people go free than to harass one innocent person.
"If police have probable cause to think you've committed a crime, they should go to court and get a warrant, instead of requiring postal clerks to act as government informants."
Now that the Under the Eagle's Eye program has become public knowledge, Americans should rise up and demand an end to Post Office spying, said Dasbach.
"Unfortunately, the Eagle has landed
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In the Imperium there exists the "principle of the individual," noble but
rarely utilized, whereby a person who violates a written law in a situation
of extreme peril or need can request a special session of the court of
jurisdiction in order to explain and support the necessity of his actions.
A number of legal procedures derive from this principle, among them the Drey
Jury, the Blind Tribunal, and the Trial by Forfeiture.
-- Law of the Imperium: Commentaries