Op-Ed: Government espionage undermines the case for postal banking | national
There is no shortage of (bad) ideas for reforming the United States Postal Service (USPS). Unfortunately, many of these proposals deserve a “return to sender” label.
One oft-cited example is postal banking, which has been suggested several times by lawmakers such as the United States. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) And even President Joe Biden. Supporters continue to call on USPS to jump into banking even amid reports the agency is inappropriately spying on Americans’ social media accounts. And, privacy hawks should be more alarmed at the idea of government banking, as the Biden administration offers intrusive Internal Revenue Service (IRS) oversight of Americans’ banking activities. Lawmakers must deal with a raging government rather than calling for federal banks.
Over the course of successive Congresses, postal banking supporters have attached a different rhetoric to their proposals. For example, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Oh.) Wants to “help hard-working Americans” get through the pandemic by giving them access to free bank accounts at their local post office. Since there are many companies offering bank accounts with no fees and no minimum deposit requirements, it’s unclear how postal banking would help these struggling Americans.
The downsides of postal banking, however, go far beyond the superfluous.
The USPS has a disturbing record of spying on Americans and unintentionally allowing criminals to snoop on private information. In April 2021, Yahoo News reported that the agency was running an investigative unit known as the Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP), which looks more like a CIA operation than a postal division. According to the newspaper, “[t]Its job is to have analysts scour social media sites for what the document describes as “inflammatory” posts, and then share that information among government agencies. As if that wasn’t scary enough, the agency uses facial recognition software when searching the Internet “to help identify unknown targets in an investigation or locate additional social media accounts for known people”.
Even before the postal espionage revelations went public, it had long been known that the American postman didn’t exactly prioritize privacy. In 2018, a cybersecurity expert find that security breaches on the USPS website have left the data of 60 million users exposed to hackers. This included all kinds of personal information such as account numbers, mailing addresses, phone numbers, and direct mail campaign data. Just four years earlier, a hack exposed the data of 800,000 postal workers and 2.9 million consumer service request records.
And, private data is less secure in the hands of the government. A recent proposal by the Biden administration would require financial institutions to report inflows and outflows from personal and business accounts annually, provided the inflows and outflows total at least $ 600 per year. Alternatively, a bank account could get a stay if its fair market value was less than $ 600. The good news is that there is a lot of opposition to this disturbing proposal from lawmakers, businesses and watchdogs such as the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. Even if this proposal is never fully implemented, the administration can nevertheless control all the accounts within its reach. This portfolio could expand considerably if postal banking services become the law of the land. And between IRS spying, postal surveillance, and federal web and security concerns, Americans have every right to be concerned.
Government surveillance is rarely benign. Federal espionage opened the door to harassment of civil rights activists in the 1960s and allows virtual voyeurs today. Lawmakers should prevent the government from expanding its activities and getting its hands on even more information. Officials must maintain a united front against federal authorities snooping into Americans’ private data and questioning the use of tools like AI-powered software, even for ostensibly “official” companies.
A proactive effort is also needed to keep essential activities such as banking out of federal reach. There is simply too much at stake to give the USPS – or any federal agency – a window into American finances.
Ross Marchand is a Principal Investigator at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.