August 15, 2003
US Postal Service Intelligent Mail Proposal Seen As Privacy Threat

The US Postal Service is proposing to implement a system similar to what Federal Express and UPS have where they label and use computers to track the movement of every single item they deliver. This has predictably raised objections from privacy advocates.

The Postal Service estimates that it delivers about 670 million pieces of mail to more than 138 million addresses daily, leading to concerns among law enforcement and government officials that it is too easy to use the system for criminal or terrorist activity.

The commission said the Intelligent Mail could bolster security, as well as let consumers track the progress of anything they send. The latter has been identified as a top consumer demand in the commission's independent surveys.

One objection that privacy advocates raise is cost. But as computer storage, CPU, and communications costs continually fall the costs of implementing such a system fall as well. Their real objection is the threat to privacy. They want anonymous means of communication. But unless the postal service eliminates drop-box mailing and anonymous purchasing of stamps this proposal will not stop someone from sending mail without revealing their identity. Granted, a letter may be traced back to its originating mail box but letters are already marked with the town they originated from. One can easily drive to another town and drop a letter in the mail there under the current system and likely under the new system as well.

If privacy advocates do not like what computers can accomplish in terms of monitoring and tracking human activity now they face a bleak future. Computer speed, storage, and communications bandwidth will all increase by orders of magnitude in coming decades. Sensor networks are going to be cheap and pervasive. New readers to this site should check out my Surveillance Society archive and look for posts that discuss the argument that the death of privacy is inevitable.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 August 15 12:30 PM  Surveillance Society

john said at August 16, 2003 4:42 PM:

my lettercarrier tosses letters when it is a hot day. I welcome the ability to prove i never get letters sent to me. Others not getting their stuff? please chime in. Bush is head of the post office..... we need Al Gore in the white house to put a stop to these republican post office shenannigans. Republican government is bad government..just look at how they are messing up their chance to govern Iraq well. They cant govern here, cant govern there. The blackout was republican utility deregulation in action.... New York heat, sewerage in drinking water, tourists sleeping on Times Square cement.
Republican president,
Republican governor,
Republican mayor.
Sweep every republican out! They don't belong within a million miles of political power.
Their focus is not on delivering the mail or electricity, it is only on sweeping short term profits into their pockets. Go to and subscribe to the weekly newsletter at the "get involved" tab.
Love and peace,

Bob said at August 16, 2003 5:12 PM:

Hi John, Are you saying the democrats will make the trains run on time?

Patrick said at August 17, 2003 4:07 PM:

Getting back to the original subject, privacy does seem doomed. It was nice while it lasted. Of course personal privacy only arose in the 20th century, so it was available for what? 80 or 90 years?

Prior to 1900, most people lived in small town or farms, where as everyone knows there is no privacy. Everyone knows who you are, what mail you recieve, how often you post letters, when and where you cut your hair....

Alternatively, there were the rich, they had servants, lots of servants. Butlers, maids, someone always hovering in the background. You couldn't post letters, have parties, have drinks with a friend, have a special person over for the night, drive somewhere... anything without the servants knowing all about it.

What we're losing is a recent development. Not that it wasn't nice.

Brenda said at June 21, 2004 7:00 AM:

I am sorry = but why close the post office for Ronald Reagan? He died - we all die...eventually - If Bush was his friend big whoop. I am not being political; I just want my mail delivery to be on time this has screwed it up MAJORLY>! I am still alive and need my mail.

mona said at September 30, 2005 7:27 AM:

I would like to complain about the mail delivery. The postmen they don't speak english, no common sense. If you complain to the supervisor I don't think the do any thing either.

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