By on March 14, 2015

The Truth About Cars has followed the use of license plate recognition and storage technology by local law enforcement agencies, a practice that has raised alarms from civil liberties activists because of constitutional concerns over broad surveillance and the ability to reconstruct one’s movements from license plate data. Now it appears that United States Postal Inspection Service, the USPS’ own law enforcement agency has also, at least at one post office in Colorado, been collecting similar data from drivers. Though the device had apparently been operating for at least a few months, within an hour of Chris Halsne, of Denver’s KDVR television station, inquiring from the postal inspectors about a Golden, Colorado post office that had a camera positioned to record drivers’ faces and license plates, triggered as they left the post office property, the in-ground camera was removed.

A postal customer first noticed the camera, hidden in a utility box, back in November, and it appears to have been active through the busy Christmas mailing season and into January. Management at the post office where the camera was discovered told KDVR that they were not aware of the camera and that it wasn’t part of the building’s normal security system.

When asked by KDVR, the Postal Inspection Service would not discuss their reasons for surveilling Denver postal customers, but acknowledged their use of cameras. Without saying so specifically, a statement from U.S. Postal Inspector Pamela Durkee implied that the camera discovered at the Denver post office was part of some kind of ongoing investigation, not constitutionally dubious random spying on Americans. “(We) do not engage in routine or random surveillance. Cameras are deployed for law enforcement or security purposes, which may include the security of our facilities, the safety of our customers and employees, or for criminal investigations. Employees of the Postal Inspection Service are sworn to uphold the United States Constitution, including protecting the privacy of the American public.”

The Postal Inspection Service is one of the oldest federal law enforcement agencies in the United States and it has a pretty good record of protecting both those who carry our mail and our privacy. To protect postal employees and the stamps, money, postal money orders and valuables they handle, most post offices in the United States have at least as many security cameras installed as the average bank does. Those cameras, though, are as visible as their purpose is.

Not long ago, I was mailing a package and while standing in line noticed a sign saying “Refrain From Cellphone Use While Being Serviced”. Struck by the double-entendre, I stepped forward to take a photo of the sign with my phone. A woman standing behind me started to freak out about her privacy and at first I didn’t know what she was talking about and then realized she thought I was taking a “selfie”, with her in the background.

A little annoyed, I told her that I wasn’t taking her picture but that I happen to write and take photographs professionally and that nobody has any expectation of privacy in a public place. Then I counted off the number of security cameras recording us at that very moment, at least six that I could see, which didn’t seem to bother her at all. On the way out of the building, I counted another five cameras. At least at that particular post office location, your every movement is recorded from even before you open the door.

As I said, you have no expectation of privacy in public places. Still, we live in a country that long ago decided that the government has no business doing broad surveillance of the public. Criminal investigations, not to mention those involving national security, are undoubtedly sensitive, but at a time when Americans already have concerns about broad surveillance of electronic communications by the National Security Agency, it would probably behoove the postal inspectors to be a little more forthcoming with the purpose of their camera in Denver. Ripping out a camera when it becomes a news story and a boilerplate statement intoning on the moral integrity of postal inspectors doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in that integrity.

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50 Comments on “Postal Inspectors Reported to be Collecting License Plate Info, Agents Deny Broad Surveillance...”


  • avatar

    Well stated, Robbie. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

    And even though driving is a privilege, not a Constitutional right, the ability of a law-abiding citizen to travel without government tracking our every move is a liberty that must be defended at all costs.

    • 0 avatar
      OneAlpha

      “Eternal vigilance?”

      I thought it was “eternal vigilantism.”

      Oops.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Driving, riding a horse, bicycling, etc. are all expressions of the right to freedom of movement. Their exercise is limited only to public safety concerns. Licensing comes under public safety ONLY, assuring that those driving a vehicle know how to operate it, and know the rules of the road.

      I keep hearing this ‘driving is a privilege” baloney over and over. Get it straight: the Constitution does NOT authorize the government to dispense privileges.

      • 0 avatar
        MrGreenMan

        Hear, hear!

        The common man is entitled to the use of all normal, common, or traditional modes of conveyance without molestation by the government without due cause and due process.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        First rule of the internet: If some guy in a comments section claims that something is illegal or constitutional, then it is probably perfectly legal and constitutional.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          Here’s a video of an unlicensed dude with an active warrant that’s pulled over and claims they don’t have a man “driving with expired tags” but one “traveling” in his “private conveyance” and not a “vehicle”, therefor not subject to the state’s motor vehicle laws. Then he asks for the cop’s IDs for they’re unlawfully detaining him. Should the cops back off and let him go free?

          youtube.com/watch?v=-oQpoYa0Jos

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    I agree that way too much surveillance is taking place, not only by the government but by corporate America as well. Not only are we being tracked with license plate recognition software, we willingly let our smartphones provide a wealth of information on our behavior to be used/sold to companies and we have no say in allowing it or not. Our cars rat us out in case of accidents. Ezpass technology tracks our driving habits. We have essentially given up all rights to privacy for the convenience that technology provides. Yet nobody seems to care. I often bring this topic up at work and I receive close to zero concern about the eroding of our right to privacy. And sadly, the younger the coworker, the less they seem concerned.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      Today’s smart phones really are tracking us too much. About a month ago I flew to Chicago for training. My phone kept giving me flight alerts for my flight. I didn’t have the airlines app on my phone at the time, and I didn’t access anything related to my flight on the phone either. I assume since I used Google Chrome to check on on my laptop, Google sent the info to my phone. My phone also knows when I go to work, and when I go home. Too much tracking indeed.

    • 0 avatar

      As I discovered recently when I lost my phone, the upside of letting Google+ spy on me is that I didn’t lose my contact #s.

      I do worry that computers make real totalitarian surveillance practicable.

    • 0 avatar
      OneAlpha

      Computer technology is a power unprecedented in human history, not just in scope, but in its very nature.

      How could anyone have foreseen the risks associated with round-the-clock connectivity and data storage, driven by organizations dedicated to learning “all that is knowable.”

      Effectively, to have God’s knowledge, without His benevolence.

    • 0 avatar

      ” we willingly let our smartphones provide a wealth of information on our behavior to be used/sold to companies and we have no say in allowing it or not.”

      We have all been infiltrated. The only reason to keep the government out of our homes and minds is to give up technology. But as Carlin said: we’ve been bought off by electronic toys.

      They are watching and tracking everything we do.

      When they aren’t – we volunteer the information on social media.

      If not there, somewhere else.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Contact the union.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Everybody is watching everybody else. Ok fine- but it stops nothing. What is the real intent of all of this surveillance? While I am not crazy about surveillance, it is the least of our problems nowadays. All of this widespread surveillance and technology didn’t stop the Boston Marathon attacks, now did it?

    • 0 avatar
      SpinnyD

      The police aren’t there to stop anything, they are only there to draw that chalk outline around your body after the fact.

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        And as the courts will tell you, it’s not the cops’ job to protect you. It might not be yours either, but we’re not sure. Try it out, and we’ll figure it all out in the aftermath.

  • avatar
    formula m

    They are probably trying to track people mailing weed out of the state.

  • avatar
    JEFFSHADOW

    Point 1:
    I worked at the Post Office in 1980 for the 90-day “casual” assignment, wherein the USPS gets young non-union workers to sort “junk”, oops, “third class mail” while the long time employees get to sit at the LSM or slowly do their job at a pace that would startle a turtle. Many employees were stealing Playboy magazines, Star Wars action figures and un-canceled stamps. I had at least eight bosses who were excellent at deciding which coffee flavor was best. As usual, the ones that did the least amount of work got paid the most.
    Point 2:
    Try as I might, I cannot find an OBD II connector, computer black box tracker or Bluetooth port on my 1972 Toronado!

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    What do We The People really expect to happen here?

    Really, when was the last time you heard of some government agency getting caught with their hand in the cookie jar and just flat-out admitting that what they were doing was unacceptable, but that they didn’t care?

    Can you imagine any Federal agency being so brazenly honest as to say something like, “Yup. We’re spying on you. You gonna stop us?”

    • 0 avatar

      As I said in the post, I can see how the camera could be part of a criminal or national security investigation, so it could be legitimate but the response of the Postal Inspection Service was typical bureaucratese. Heck, I can even see it being used for market research. In a lot of states license plates are assigned by county so they might use it to determine from where their customers at that PO are coming and then use that data for locating new post offices. Of course it wouldn’t be the postal inspectors running the camera in that case.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      As long as you are out in public, the US Supreme Court held that you have no reasonable expectation of privacy.

      Anyone passing a US Border Patrol station, or International Airport, can see the banks and banks of cameras aimed high, low and everywhere in between to record the passage of cars, trucks, people, coming and going.

      Go to the Port of Long Beach, CA, sometime, and see how many cameras you can count. Then remember those are only the ones you could see.

      This was going on long before 9/11 but has increased exponentially since that infamous date.

      • 0 avatar
        OneAlpha

        “No reasonable expectation of privacy” is a far cry from carte blanche to blanket the landscape with cameras in the name of safety and security.

        Remember that in English, “KGB” meant “Committee for State Security.”

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          They’ve got carte blanche AND they are blanketing the landscape with cameras, including at buildings, intersections in towns and cities.

          My best bud has four cameras mounted around his house, and they work off his router. Great for looking to see who’s out there, ringing that door bell.

          My wife and I went to a Texas Roadhouse restaurant the other day for lunch and I noticed cameras everywhere, ins1de, outs1de, all neatly located among the decorations.

          Ditto with the malls, mall parking lots, outs1de and ins1de Wal-Mart, Target, Kohl’s, they’re everywhere.

          But the biggest concentration of banks and banks of cameras is around the US Border Patrol checkpoints. And they have flashing lights to get you to look so they can capture your image through the windshield or s1de glass.

          Those caneras record your image from the front, from the s1des, and from behind when you pass them, on both s1des of the road.

          We, the people, have given up all preponderance of privacy and the protection of the 4th amendment voluntarily.

          The US government is building massive data storage facilities to do the Nazis one better. No one needs to snitch on another anymore.

          Just being out and about allows Uncle Sam, and anyone else with a camera, to track you with the help of your cellphone or any other location-device like a Tablet PC, Laptop, NAV system, whatever.

          It’s the new world order. And no doubt, the innocent will be punished while the guilty will go free.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    its really too late

    i expect there’s a surveillance society already in the west

    if you want a semblance you probably go to most out into rural areas

    i’d say as little as 100-150 miles out of the metro areas there’s a lack of cameras but there’s also a lack of jobs

  • avatar
    bk_moto

    USPIS does a lot of criminal investigations, it’s quite possible that this camera was indeed set up for a limited time for the purpose of observing or corroborating the movements of a known target of a criminal investigation, most likely someone who was using that post office to do something illegal (like shipping or receiving drugs through the mail).

    The legal threshold to set up such a temporary camera is quite low since there’s no expectation of privacy in a public place – the agents placing the camera just have to be careful to make sure that it doesn’t have a field of view into a private place.

    The PIS, like all law enforcement agencies except maybe the NYPD, has limited manpower and resources to conduct their investigations so it would seem unlikely that this camera would be used for random surveillance because a) who has the time to deal with that and b) random surveillance doesn’t advance anyone’s case – no stats, no care.

  • avatar
    strafer

    Green Bank, WV would be a good place to live for those who want to be disconnected.
    And some who are physically sensitive to cell signals move there.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Why do we need to know why the camera was in the Post Office? Whether the camera is hidden or not. Was the camera actually put there by the Postal Service?

    Was it an employee who has some fetish? Was the camera in use for a criminal case? No one knows.

    What I like about some of the commenters on TTAC is their polarising views.

    Ronnie, straight up. You are now bleating what your rights are, yet a couple of days ago it appeared you didn’t like a sweatshirt some kid was wearing because of your daughters. What are his rights?

    His rights are what YOU think they should be, so long as they don’t offend you, which you stated they didn’t and yet you are concerned what your daughters will see. Odd, very odd view. Did you ask your daughter if she was offended? That doesn’t matter, does it? The rights of others.

    It seems many of you are more worried about your rights then the right of others.

    The list on TTAC is long from red light, radar camera’s it appears everyone in the world are against you guys. The very same people will probably complain if a criminal gets away. Why didn’t the law enforcers (government) offer better protection.

    But, hey, don’t take my gun from me. It’s my right. I need an assault rifle or pistol for protection. The criminals have them. Why? Because they are legal. A cheap assault rifle in the US cost over $35k in Australia. Why? Because they are illegal. If someone has $35k for a rifle will they rob you?

    The Post Office has the right to use a camera. I’d bet you use your cameras on vacation. How people are there in the background of your holiday pix?

    What is freedom? Freedom only exists until your freedom impinges on someone else. But I have my rights I here them say.

    Who cares about others, my perceptions of what my rights are come first. Of course at the expense of others. Because I’m me.

    • 0 avatar
      TonyJZX

      ^^^this is a typical jaundiced outsiders view completely ignorant of current events and relying on hackneyed views of a benevolent democracy

      people complaining about criminals getting away? when does that ever happen anywhere?

      americans are more likely to complain about police shooting dead or choking unarmed black men and then the police getting away scot free

      or the major and entire police and political structure of a town being called systemically racist and corrupt by the DoJ

      and he comes from a place where its a gun free paradise:

      http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/guns-imported-through-sylvania-waters-post-office-linked-to-crimes-in-sydney/story-fnpn118l-1227252669241

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        @TonyJZX,
        You must be one of those from/support the NRA.

        There are still deaths in Australia from firearms.

        You must look at the number per capita.

        Rights are great until your rights piss other off.

        My view is there is no reason for a concealed weapon or an assault rifle.

        Assault weapons are designed with one purpose in mind and that ain’t rabbit shooting.

        • 0 avatar
          TonyJZX

          so you’re offended? why dont you cry more?

          this is how i feel about your ‘offense’:

          http://static.giantbomb.com/uploads/original/12/122249/2429256-im_offended.jpg

          i dont care about guns, in fact, it wasnt even a big part of why my argument was

          funny how you pick on the last line of my post as if the most important thing and ignore the rest

          typical left wing liberal

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @TonyJZX,
            Talking about not having a clue what goes on in other nations.

            Australia is far from gun free. Many people go hunting. Actually one in twenty four Australians go hunting.

            Since the Port Arthur Massacre our gun laws were change, for the better.

            I have nothing against the ownership of guns. But they must be managed effectively.

            There is no need for an assault weapon, handgun or any concealed weapon.

            In Australia gun owners must have a safe to lock up their weapons and ammunition.

            Licencing is scrutinised closely as well.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            “Because everything’s better in Australia,
            Because everything’s better in Australia,
            Because everything’s better in Australia,
            Because everything’s better in Australia,
            Because everything’s better in Australia”

            -Big Bot From Oz

    • 0 avatar

      “Ronnie, straight up. You are now bleating what your rights are, yet a couple of days ago it appeared you didn’t like a sweatshirt some kid was wearing because of your daughters. What are his rights?”

      Please reread what I wrote and then come back here and then try to quote where I supposedly challenged the young man’s right to wear an offensive shirt. I’m pretty much a free speech absolutist.

      “His rights are what YOU think they should be, so long as they don’t offend you, which you stated they didn’t and yet you are concerned what your daughters will see.”

      Perhaps I didn’t write clearly enough but my offense at the young man’s shirt was over a general coarsening of society, not what my adult daughters might see. I was far more concerned about how his shirt made his female companion look than how my daughters might react.

      “Odd, very odd view. Did you ask your daughter if she was offended? That doesn’t matter, does it? The rights of others.”

      Again, I never questioned his right to free expression. Frankly, I believe that an appropriately American response to “I’m offended” is “Fu<k you!".

      If you note, I didn't tell the young man that I was offended.

    • 0 avatar

      ” If someone has $35k for a rifle will they rob you?”

      If it costs $35K for a firearm, the robbers will simply use a knife, knowing that they’re not likely to encounter a gun.

      Liberty is a part of American culture, some folks, including many Americans, don’t get that.

      As I explained in my post, in the U.S. there is no expectation of privacy in public so I can take photographs of people without their permission, even famous people who otherwise would be making money from their own images, as long as they are in public. However, in the U.S. the people are sovereign and the government is supposed to only have those powers enumerated in the Constitution. So, no, the government doesn’t have the right to broad surveillance. The issue isn’t whether Postal Inspectors are legally allowed to set up spy cameras. The issue is how broadly those cameras are used, how many people come under their purview.

      • 0 avatar
        TonyJZX

        also with the current events of the NSA and Snowden and the lack of congressional oversight on domestic wiretaps how can one be so naive?

        truly

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          My comment has disappeared into the vast ttac spam-filter galaxy although my comment contained no spam.

          Then again, sometimes when signing in I get welcomed with an entirely different screen name. Maybe that’s where it went.

          Oh, yeah, the pitfalls and pratfalls of modern day monitoring….. Not only at the USPS.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    The cameras are there to protect you. It’s just a fact, 8% of the times you go to the post office someone is going to shoot you in the head or you will get blown up by some terrorist’s bomb. You’ll still be dead but they’ll be able to look at the footage and catch the villain. Unless he/she does something to obscure his/her face, which he/she almost certainly will.

    But rest assured, in either case, your death will entertain millions on LiveLeak.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I really do think some of the commentary is all about fear. People are worried about rights. Who’s rights have been violated? Someone tell me.

    Also, these over the top comments regarding totalitarianism are quite ridiculous and entertaining. All from supposed intelligent and educated people.

    Have a look at the world. What countries have the most totalitarian systems of government?

    Rich, modern, Western Democracies? No. Developing and sub-developing nations have the worst forms of totalitarian systems.

    Burma? Nth Korea? Cuba? some Arab nations? Russia?, etc. Do you think these countries have the finances to have what we have and yet look at how their citizens live.

    I do think there is too much whining and crying here.

    What else can the government do the manage security? The same guys crying here are the same ones who think the levels of taxation is too high. We’ll who’s gonna pay for your expectations for what a country is.

    You whine about the conditions of roads/infrastructure and yet don’t want to pay more fuel tax. You whine about welfare and yet support industrial welfare. You complain about tactics used to infringe you when you are actually not obeying traffic regulations.

    Freedom isn’t free.

    • 0 avatar
      TonyJZX

      Freedom certainly isnt free. It costs a buck o’ five.

      Nice to see where you get your rhetoric from. Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

      Next I bet you’re going to break out into Jack Nicholson berating Tom Cruise about how ‘bad men’ are here to protect our freedom. Who’s gonna do that? You?

      Very very tired arguments.

      Also full of false equivalence and misdirection/deflection.

      See all your privileged white folk living in the west.. what… North Korea? Russia? Ukraine? Congo? Eygpt? Iraq? Iran? Proxima Centauri?

      And yet at the same time no one wants to intervene in this places.

  • avatar
    masrapida

    I love these tinfoil hat posts. Pure entertainment.

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    Actually, the post office has a significant history of actually very invasive monitoring…

    The biggest one is the automated facer/canceler system. Yes, you have no privacy protections for the outside of what you mail.

    So when the stamp is cancelled, the post office records a photo of the front and back of everything mailed, and keeps that for who knows how long.

    Yes, bulk surveillance of all mail sent. So why wouldn’t they do the same to everyone visiting the post office by car, under the same logic?

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    I complain just as much about antics of the State as anyone else, but I keep having to remind myself that there are no perfect places to live in this life.

    The United States of America is the LEAST UNJUST country in history.

    As I think about it, Big Al alludes to a good point. Neither I, or anyone I know, has ever been actually victimized by the State.

    Unless you want to count the raping and pillaging of my paycheck by the moral abomination that is the income tax, or the traffic tickets I get for being caught exceeding an arbitrarily-selected number on a roadside sign.

    It’s not that the SWine Assault Team has ever kicked in my front door in a no-knock raid. Frankly, they probably never will.

    It’s the POSSIBILITY that the State COULD DO SO – that they’re now legally-empowered to do so, if it wanted to – that doesn’t sit well with me.

    But I live a good life. I’ve got a steady job, I get paid pretty well (and every single week!), I own a solid car (that I actually like) and I live in a nice neighborhood where I don’t even have to worry about loud neighbors.

    I’m doing pretty well – it just took a while to get here, and it would’ve been a hell of a lot more difficult in practically every other country.

    I can say with absolute certainty that while I might want to visit other countries, I’d never want to live anywhere but America.

    I wouldn’t want to be a citizen of Japan, England, Australia or even Canada.

    I’m an American and for all this place’s faults, this is the only country I want to live because I’m free-EST here.

    Maybe I can’t own an R34 Skyline – YET – but I can and do own an AR-15.

    If I get caught speeding, the fines aren’t grotesquely extortionate like in Switzerland or Scandinavia.

    I can stand in line at a Starbucks and have a conversation with another guy about current events, and loudly call ISIS a bunch of “Mohammedan savages,” and the cops can’t arrest me for it, like they could in England.

    The US isn’t a perfect country. No nation is. But this is the BEST one available and I’m already here, so I’m staying.

    And you know, I think I’m going to go to the shooting range this afternoon.

    Just because I can.

  • avatar
    JLGOLDEN

    I’m not sure what the fuss is about, related to the cameras at this post office. I figure that my Impala and I both get starring roles in somebody’s surveillance log. No doubt, I’m on several people’s cameras per day, and it’s just a part of life: I pass my neighbor’s homes while walking the dogs or driving by…and their driveway cams catch a glimpse of me. Yikes! What did they get to see…me squinting in the sunlight and adjusting my glasses? Traffic cams follow my commute to work. I’m sure they regularly zoom in close, to see if I am picking my nose or texting. I get photo opportunities again as I pull into our secure parking garage at work, and again as I walk across the sky bridge to my building, and another as I pass the bank and ATM near my office, and once more as I use the elevators. I don’t think anything of it.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    It’s just the Feds wanting to know exactly who the enemy is and how he works. They’re fully expecting an uprising of US citizens and it wouldn’t be hard to pick out the generals & majors and take them out with drone strikes.

    Might have already happened.

    But there’s growing anger and citizens uniting, so the fat bastards in DC have to feel the eyes upon them. And the noose tightening around their necks. Yeah they’re nervous as hell.

    It’s only a matter of time, and likely at the next big recession, while DC is partying like it’s 1999.

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