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The End of Mail Privacy

July 8, 1999

From USA Today July 8 1999


The U.S. Postal Service is cracking down on private mailbox owners with
onerous new reporting and address requirements. Unfortunately, Americans'
privacy will be a collateral casualty of this abuse of power.

About 2 million American businesses and individuals rely on private
mailboxes provided by firms such as Pak Mail and Mail Boxes Etc. This is an
industry spawned by government incompetence and contempt for customers.
Private mailbox services arose during the 1970s, when some people were told
they would have to wait years for a post-office mailbox.

Private mailbox services, with longer hours and far more services than the
Postal Service, are lifesavers for small business owners. And the Postal
Service makes windfall profits from them because delivering a carton of
mail to a private post office is far cheaper than divvying it out to dozens
of homes and businesses.

But the success of its private competitors embarrasses the Postal Service,
which now is demanding that private mailbox customers put the equivalent of
a "Scarlet A" on their addresses.

The Postal Service soon will cease delivering mail to any private mailbox
not identified as a "PMB" in the address. Thus, even though the Postal
Service knows an address is correct, it will spitefully return the letter
to the sender as "undeliverable."

Many private box owners now simply use the street address of the private
mail office; some add a suite number. The mandatory PMB designation is an
attempt to make an entire industry appear a bit shabby and shady.

Name, rank and mailbox

The Postal Service is also requiring those who want a private mailbox to
show two types of identification, including a photo, and give their home
address and phone. The Postal Service initially said it would provide this
personal information to anyone who asked. After a backlash from privacy
advocates, it promised two weeks ago to tighten its disclosure policy, but
has not yet revised its proposed regulations.

Juley Fulcher of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence says the
proposed regulations "could be particularly dangerous for battered women
who are trying to conceal their location from someone who is stalking
them." Her coalition worries that the Postal Service won't safeguard the
information it compels private mailbox users to surrender.

And what's the next step? If the Postal Service can require two forms of
identification from anyone receiving mail in a private mailbox, then why
can't a mail deliverer demand to see two pieces of identification from you
before he gives up your home mail?

Anecdotal 'proof'

The Postal Service justifies the new burden by warning of the dangers of
mail fraud. However, the Postal Service can provide no information as to
the number of fraud convictions related to private post office boxes
compared to its own mailboxes. Instead, a few anecdotes are deemed
sufficient to sanction new restrictions on millions of citizens.

Local franchise owners of private mailbox offices loudly denounce the new
rules. The Small Business Survival Committee, a Washington lobby, warns
that the rules will cost businesses hundreds of millions of dollars in
transition costs for things such as customer notices and new stationery.

When the Postal Service initially proposed the new requirements late last
year, public comments ran 800 to 1 against the controls. The Postal Service
moved ahead anyway. But Congress may yank on its reins: Rep. Ron Paul,
R-Texas, has proposed a resolution that would wipe away the new requirements.

That would be a good step, but the only real solution is to demilitarize
the Postal Service's legal arsenal and end its power over other American
businesses and American citizens.


James Bovard is the author of href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0312214413/ludwigvonmisesin"target="_new">Freedom in Chains: The Rise of the State and
the Demise of the Citizen

c) copyright 1999 USA Today

See also Postal Watch, a site devoted entirely to exposing goings on with the government mails.

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