1965 April 8

Senate to Investigate Invasions of Privacy by Post Office


Senator Edward V. Long (D–Missouri) announced on this day that he would hold hearings on reports that the Post Office had a practice of turning over mail addressed to delinquent taxpayers to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Long and others charged that the mail was being seized without a search warrant. The practice was based on a Civil War era law that allowed the seizure of the property of tax delinquents. Senator Long’s investigations were the first to bring the issue of invasions of privacy to public attention, and they had an enormous impact on public opinion. Life Magazine, then one of the most influential news magazines in the country, published a cover story entitled “The Big Snoop” on May 20, 1966, bringing the issue of invasions of privacy to a mass audience.

A year before Senator Long announced his hearings, the Post Office, on December 11, 1964, said it would dismantle the “listening posts” in Post Office men’s rooms that had been created allegedly to spy on what the Post Office described as illegal conduct but in reality were there to detect homosexual activity. The “posts” were part of the homophobic “lavender scare” that swept Washington, D.C., in the early 1950s (see May 19, 1950). Meanwhile, the Post Office’s cooperation with both the CIA and the FBI was not fully exposed until the post-Watergate Senate Church Committee investigation of abuses of Americans’ rights.

Read Senator Long’s account: Edward V. Long, The Intruders: the Invasion of Privacy by Government and Industry (1966)

Read the Senate Church Committee report on Post Office involvement with the CIA and the FBI: http://www.aarclibrary.org/publib/contents/church/contents_church_reports_book3.htm

Learn about Senator Long’s role in passing the Freedom of Information Act: http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/hall-of-fame/u-s-sen-edward-long

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