These are troubled times for the US Postal Service, due to the threat that email and electronic communication has posed to its monopoly on first class mail. The last thing the system needed was a massive data breach that raises many uncomfortable questions for the service and for the Administration.
This week, the USPS revealed that it had severed a data breach that compromised the records of over 800,000 employees and an unspecified number of customers contacting postal call center. This includes names, addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses of people who contacted the call centers. The period of exposure goes back as far as last January.
Unconfirmed reports in various publications, such as the NY Times, linked the breach to Chinese hackers. This is particularly embarrassing to the administration because it comes during a week when President Obama was meeting with Chinese leaders at an annual economic summit in China.
Ironically, the USPS has come under criticism recently for its participation in government surveillance programs. While the contents of mail are private, the exterior information, such as sender and receiver addresses, is considered public information. Law enforcement has exploited this information to tracker the activities of individuals under surveillance for over 100 years.
Only recently, however, has the post office digitally photo’d the address information on every letter and package sent through the system, over 150 billion pieces each year. This is a treasure trove of data for law enforcement needing to track the activities of suspects and persons of interest. The Post Office has turned thousands of images to law enforcement on request. This has raised concerns that they may be violating individuals expectations for privacy.
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