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Going Postal: Analyzing the Abuse of Mail Covers Under the Fourth Amendment

Posted by on Saturday, October 7, 2017 in Notes, Volume 70, Volume 70, Number 5.

Going Postal


Since at least the late 1800s, the United States government has regularly tracked the mail of many of its citizens. In 2014 alone, for example, the government recorded all data on the outside of the mail parcels of over 50,000 individuals via a surveillance initiative known as the mail covers program. In the current age of mass surveillance, this program—like all surveillance initiatives—has grown exponentially. Unbeknownst to most citizens, the government now photographs and records the exterior of each of the roughly 160 billion mail parcels delivered by the USPS every year. Still, despite its ability to allow governmental authorities to uncover a startlingly accurate picture of citizens’ daily lives, the long-abused mail covers program continues to be implemented without any judicial oversight. This Note provides the first comprehensive legal analysis of the mail covers program in the modern era. In doing so, it also analyzes current Fourth Amendment jurisprudence and advocates for the adoption of the mosaic theory to privacy protection better capable of safeguarding citizens in an age of unprecedented government surveillance capability.


Julie Lynn Rooney
J.D. Candidate, 2018, Vanderbilt University Law School; B.A., 2015, Denison University