In addition to the email and phone metadata the U.S. government is tracking, the feds also have an eye on your regular old snail mail, which is actually a "treasure trove of information," according to a former FBI agent who used to work with the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program, as it's called. One would think that snail mail, a relic from a former century, wouldn't provide that much insight into our lives — isn't it all bills and unwamted brochures by now? But, it's just about as useful, it not more so, than digital collection. "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," James J. Wedick, the FBI agent, told The New York Times's Ron Nixon.
That's pretty much what the NSA can find through digital tracking, as explained here, but the mail surveillance program is even worse from a privacy advocates standpoint because there is zero oversight. "You just fill out a form," Wedick explains. The U.S. Postal Service grants or denies the request without any judicial overview — there's not even a secret court involved. And it's all okay, say courts, because people shouldn't expect privacy for the outside of their mail. Which: sure, anyone can look at the outside of a given envelope. But, is that the same thing as someone rifling through our mail every single day? Apparently.