Mail Isolation Control and Tracking
Mail Isolation Control and Tracking (MICT) is an imaging system employed by the United States Postal Service (USPS) that takes photographs of the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States. The Postmaster General has stated that the system is primarily used for mail sorting, though it also enables the USPS to retroactively track mail correspondence at the request of law enforcement. It was created in the aftermath of the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people, including two postal workers. The automated mail tracking program was created so that the Postal Service could more easily track hazardous substances and keep people safe, according to U.S. Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) revealed MICT on June 7, 2013, when discussing the Bureau's investigation of ricin-laced letters sent to U.S. President Barack Obama and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. The FBI stated in a criminal complaint that the program was used to narrow its investigation to Shannon Richardson. U.S. Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe confirmed in an interview with the Associated Press the existence of this program on August 2, 2013.
In confirming the existence of MICT, Donahoe told the Associated Press that the USPS does not maintain a massive centralized database of the letter images. He said that the images are taken at more than 200 mail processing centers around the country, and that each scanning machine at the processing centers only keeps images of the letters it scans. He also stated the images are retained for a week to 30 days and then destroyed.
Computer security and information privacy expert Bruce Schneier compared MICT to the mass surveillance of the National Security Agency (NSA), revealed in June 2013 by Edward Snowden. Schneier said, "Basically, [the USPS is] doing the same thing as the [NSA] programs, collecting the information on the outside of your mail, the metadata, if you will, of names, addresses, return addresses and postmark locations, which gives the government a pretty good map of your contacts, even if they aren't reading the contents."
James J. Wedick, a former FBI agent, said of MICT, "It's a treasure trove of information. Looking at just the outside of letters and other mail, I can see who you bank with, who you communicate with — all kinds of useful information that gives investigators leads that they can then follow up on with a subpoena." He also said the program "can be easily abused because it's so easy to use, and you don't have to go through a judge to get the information. You just fill out a form."
Following the FBI's revelation of MICT, a spokesperson for the Australia Post stated that the Post does not photograph mail and only records personal details on mail packages at the direction of authorized law enforcement agencies.
- Nixon, Ron (July 3, 2013). "U.S. Postal Service Logging All Mail for Law Enforcement". New York Times.
- "AP Interview: USPS takes photos of all mail". 2 August 2013. Retrieved 6 August 2013.
- "Postal Service Confirms Photographing All U.S. Mail". 2 August 2013. Retrieved 6 August 2013.
- "Ricin Suspect Was Tracked Via Mail Scanners". The Smoking Gun. June 7, 2013.
- "AP Interview: Postal Service takes photos of all mail, keeps images for up to a month". 2 August 2013. Retrieved 6 August 2013.
- Wright, Jessica (July 4, 2013). "Australia Post 'does not photograph mail'". Sydney Morning Herald.