'Smart Stamps' Next in War on Terrorism; the Post Office Eyes a Sender Identification System, but Some Have Privacy Concerns

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 26, 2003 | Go to article overview

'Smart Stamps' Next in War on Terrorism; the Post Office Eyes a Sender Identification System, but Some Have Privacy Concerns


Byline: Audrey Hudson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Sending an anonymous love letter or an angry note to your congressman? The U.S. Postal Service will soon know who you are.

Beginning with bulk or commercial mail, the Postal Service will require "enhanced sender identification" for all discount-rate mailings, according to the notice published in the Oct. 21 Federal Register. The purpose of identifying senders is to provide a more efficient tracking system, but more importantly, to "facilitate investigations into the origin of suspicious mail."

The Postal Service began to look into updating mailing procedures after the anthrax scares in October 2001 when an unknown person or persons sent several U.S. senators and news organizations envelopes filled with the deadly toxin. Two post office workers died from handling envelopes laced with anthrax.

"This is a first step to make the mail more secure," said Joel Walker, customer service support analyst for the mailing-standards office.

But what has privacy advocates concerned is a report by a presidential commission that recommends the post office develop technology to identify all individual senders, which is directly referenced in the Federal Register notice. The proposed regulations are open for public comment through Nov. 20 to the Postal Service.

"The President's Commission on the United States Postal Service recently recommended the use of sender identification for every piece of mail," the Federal Register stated. "Requiring sender-identification for discount-rate mail is an initial step on the road to intelligent mail."

Also cited in the notice are two congressional committee recommendations urging the Postal Service to explore the concept of sender identification, including the "feasibility of using unique, traceable identifiers applied by the creator of the mailpiece."

"We're not ready to go there yet, but we are trying to make an initial step to make all mail, including discount mail, easily identified as to who the sender is," Mr. Walker said.

"Smart stamps" or personalized stamps with an embedded digital code would identify the sender, destination and class. …

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