Front Page Titles (by Subject) Mail, Privacy, and Social Control - Literature of Liberty, October/December 1978, vol. 1, No. 4
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Mail, Privacy, and Social Control - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, October/December 1978, vol. 1, No. 4 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Mail, Privacy, and Social Control
“How Uncle Sam Covers the Mails.” Civil Liberties Review 4 (May/June 1977): 20–28.
Even such an apparently benign governmental monopoly as the postal service can, through regulation, serve sinister ends and violate individual privacy. The federal government has long used “mail covers” as a tool of investigation and surveillance. A “mail cover” involves the recording of information from the outside of envelopes of first class mail received by citizens.
Mail cover first appears as an investigative technique in the Postal Regulations of 1879. Its original intent was to supply information to postal inspectors about fugitives and “fraudulent schemers.” In 1948 the regulations were modified to allow a mail cover at the request of any federal executive department or agency. One of the first victims of these new mail regulations was Senator Joseph McCarthy. In 1952, the Senate Subcommittee on Privileges and Immunities covered McCarthy's mail on the allegation that he was using Senate funds for stock speculation. The adverse reaction to the invasion of McCarthy's privacy through mail cover spurred the Post Office Department in 1954 to rewrite the postal regulations. The revised regulations again restricted access to postal information to postal inspectors and law officers seeking fugitives.
More recently, the mail cover regulations were rewritten following Senator Long's Congressional Hearings titled “Invasions of Privacy by Governmental Agencies.” The new regulations did little more to restrain invasions of privacy than did the 1954 regulations.
Mail covers stirred public attention again in 1975 with a review of government surveillance techniques by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil Liberties. Postal authorities, it was divulged, had granted mail covers to such agencies as a Fish and Wildlife Commission, the IRS, the FBI, the CIA, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. More significant was the discovery that no standards existed for regulating the use of “national security” mail covers.
A promising effort to limit mail covers is Congress's HR 214 (April 1976). This bill seeks to limit both those who can authorize or request mail covers and the duration of a mail cover. The bill also would permit mail covers to be used only in connection with investigating felonies and would require notifying the subject of the mail cover that his mail had been surveyed at the end of the cover. Because of opposition by the Justice Department to portions of HR 214, the bill was reported back to the Subcommittee.