New USPS Service Takes E-Photos of Mail

For many high school students of a certain generation there was nothing like watching the mailbox like a hawk waiting for college acceptance letters and/or new drivers licenses.

The rule of thumb in the 1970s was that a thick envelope meant college acceptance and a thin envelope passing the driver’s test and getting a license.

But in today’s world where first class mail use has plummeted and most communications are electronic and immediate the U.S. Postal Service has come up with an online way to forewarn people about what they’re gonna get in the mail.

Dubbed Informed Delivery, the service, which went live on April 12 electronically photographs all the mail set to be delivered each day to individual mailboxes and lets them know a few days ahead of time through on online messaging

While this may seem like a good idea and possibly a way to give postal mail the illusion of the immediacy of email, texts and the like Informed Delivery could have privacy violation implications by making it easier for the government, corporations and, maybe even scam artists, to see exactly what people get and when.

When all the daily information is available at one’s fingertips those entities may be better able than before to target commercial offers to recipients and further refine their targeting.

On the other hand information gleaned from Informed Delivery could potentially be used against people. For exampl they might receive too many bad debt collection letters or correspondence from law enforcement agencies whether or not they’ve been convicted of a crime.

Or, more likely, how many bills do individuals get in the mail from hospitals and other medical providers? This data could very easily be used to discriminate against people even though the amassing of medical data is supposed to be against the law.

The list of possible abuses goes on and on.

Don’t kid yourselves: extremely detailed personal information has already been available for many, many years despite some self-policing rhetoric from mailing and online industry groups which say they want to protect individual privacy.

But Informed Delivery does provide another means for further profiling people that can very easily be used to corroborate existing information whether accurate or not.

Informed Delivery is not that new an idea. Since the 1990s the USPS has been photographing the outsides of most mail pieces it delivers to help route and sort mail. And for the past few years, the postal service has occasionally shared this information with law enforcement agencies investigating specific cases, according to Linn’s Stamp News

Right now, the USPS is using Informed Delivery in a handful of locations around the country. Maybe it’ll take off and help people better appreciate their six-day-a-week mail service. Or it could fall flat like so many other ideas for enhancing the postal service.

At least Informed Delivery is not as absurd as the 2011 proposal to sell beer and wine in post offices.

This entry was posted in postal facilities, Privacy, service levels, U.S. Postal Service and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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