May 24, 1999
Post Office stamps out privacy
More is loony at the post office than just cartoon stamps
Assaults on privacy are rampant. No sooner have we been successful in stopping four agencies from implementing Orwellian invasions into the financial records of every American citizen, but now the US Post Office has moved to severely limit privacy and restrict trade.
A Postal Service regulation has been finalized that tramples the privacy of the approximately two million Americans who rent mailboxes from commercial mail receiving agencies.
Under this regulation, any American currently renting, or planning to rent, a commercial mailbox must provide the commercial agency with personal information, including two forms of identification: one must display a photograph of the renter, and the other include a "serial number...traceable to the bearer." Of course, that number will generally be today’s de facto national ID -- the Social Security Number.
The Postal Service now requires that the commercial agency send the information to the Post Office, which in turn will maintain the information in a database. Further, the regulations would require the commercial agencies to maintain photocopies of the forms of identification presented by the box renter.
It should not escape notice that the Postal Service, under the Privacy Act of 1974, is prohibited from doing this itself. How ironic, and outrageous, that the Post office is mandating a private business do what Congress has explicitly forbidden the Post Office from doing.
Because the federal government has granted a monopoly on first-class mail delivery to the Postal Service, Americans cannot receive mail without dealing with them. Therefore, this regulation presents Americans who wish to receive mail at a commercial mail receiving agency with a choice: either surrender your right to privacy, or surrender your right to receive legal mail in the manner you prefer.
The post office likes this database because it will give them a 100-percent, no-error list of people who have opted against using a Postal Service PO Box and related services. Thus the Postal Service could mail advertisements to these people explaining, perhaps, how their privacy would not be invaded if they used a government box.
This regulation, ironically, was issued at a time when the Post Office is getting into an increasing number of enterprises not directly related to the delivery of mail. So while the Postal Service is willing to use its monopoly on first-class mail to compete with the private sector, it is at the same time working to make life more difficult for its competitors in the field of mail delivery.
Of course, this regulation also raises the operating cost on the Post Office’s private competitors for private mailbox services. Some who have examined this bill estimate it could impose costs as high as $1 billion on these small businesses during the initial six-month compliance period. The long-term cost of this rule is incalculable, but will no doubt force some of these businesses into bankruptcy.
During the rule's comment period, more than 8,000 people spoke against, and only ten in favor of it. But to those supporting the rule, all is justified because they claim it is necessary to crack down on criminal activities. First, the federal role in crime, even if committed in "interstate commerce," is a limited one. More importantly, just because someone may use a mailbox to commit a crime does not give the government the right to treat every user of a commercial mailbox as a criminal.
I have introduced House Joint Resolution 55, the Mailbox Privacy Protection Act, hoping that it will be considered under the expedited procedures to overturn onerous regulations as established in the Contract with America Advancement Act of 1996. Congress cannot hide and blame these actions on the bureaucracy.
This latest assault on privacy must be reversed. Congress must not allow the Post Office to force American citizens to divulge, as the price for receiving mail, personal information for inclusion in massive databases. Given this rule, and the recent series of postage stamps and paraphernalia, one can only conclude that the US Postal Service has gone loony.