- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2003

The U.S. Postal Service is withdrawing a notice in the Federal Register because its wording suggests that a plan to identify senders of bulk mail is the first step to identifying the senders of all mail.

Stephen M. Kearney, vice president of pricing and classification for the Postal Service, said the notice “has caused misunderstanding in some quarters.”

“Sender-Identified Mail: Enhanced Requirement for Discount Rate Mailings, a notice intended to clarify business customer information, will be reissued,” Mr. Kearney said in a statement.

Privacy advocates criticized the notice, which directly quoted a presidential commission report calling for the Postal Service to develop technology to identify all individual senders.

“The President’s Commission on the United States Postal Service recently recommended the use of sender-identification for every piece of mail,” according to the Federal Register, the publication in which all legislation must be listed before it takes effect. “Requiring sender-identification for discount-rate mail is an initial step on the road to intelligent mail.”

Chris Hoofnagle, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said that notice, published Oct. 21, was “very clearly written and explained the larger policy goals.”

“It appears the Postal Service wants to obscure their policy goals. It is not clear how removing the intelligent mail language relieves the threat of privacy invasion,” Mr. Hoofnagle said.

The center, which opposes mandatory sender identification requirements, plans to respond during the public comment period when the regulation is published again in the Federal Register.

“Individuals have a constitutional right to anonymity. The benefits of sender identification do not outweigh the harms to privacy,” Mr. Hoofnagle said.

The notice, first reported by The Washington Times, also cited two congressional committee recommendations urging the Postal Service to explore the concept of sender identification. This included the “feasibility of using unique, traceable identifiers applied by the creator of the mailpiece.”

A Postal Service spokesman said the notice “included some justification that in retrospect raised concerns among folks that wasn’t intended.”

“We are very concerned about privacy. It’s part of our brand, something we want to jealously protect. So mail will continue to be protected according to our highest existing privacy rules. Mailers will only be identified if they choose to sign on for a particular service that requires identification,” the spokesman said.

Asked if the Postal Service is moving toward sender identification for all mailers, the spokesman said, “Both the White House and Congress would have to determine how they want to transform the Postal Service.”

The proposals from Congress and the commission regarding sender identification stemmed from incidents two years ago in which anthrax-tainted mail was sent to U.S. senators and news organizations.