- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The U.S. Postal Service has quietly sought to “immunize” itself from Privacy Act challenges to its address-correction service, a program that gives credit, marketing and data-service providers access to updated name and address information for tens of millions of Americans.

Postal officials say the program helps reduce costly undeliverable mail that can clog up the mail stream, but its failure to obtain consent to sell customers’ information is raising alarm bells from within and outside the agency.

A Postal Service legal memo obtained by The Washington Times proposes pursuing legislation to “immunize the current address correction services from any challenge under the Privacy Act or Section 412.”

The Privacy Act prohibits federal agencies from renting or selling personal information unless specifically authorized by law. Section 412 refers to a provision in federal law that bars the Postal Service from making public names or addresses of postal customers.

“Suggestions have been made that these longstanding services may be inconsistent with current law,” a copy of draft legislation by Postal Service states.

In the legal memo obtained by The Times through the Freedom of Information Act, postal officials wrote that the address-correction services have been “provided for years and are not based on obtaining written consent from customers.”

‘Isolated concerns’

The legislation hasn’t surfaced in Congress, and postal officials say they stand by the current address correction program. In a statement to The Times, the Postal Service defended the program as consistent with the Privacy Act and Section 412.

“There have been isolated concerns by a very few individuals who do not agree with the Postal Service’s position,” Postal Service officials said. “The legislative language proposed was offered to make stronger what the Postal Service already believes is a strong legal position.”

But Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, said the Postal Service’s public statements don’t square with the legal memo.

“Obviously you don’t go running to the Hill asking for legislation unless you anticipate problems,” he said. “I think they see trouble.”

The undated legal memo refers to “suggestions” that the address-correction service is inconsistent with the law, but postal officials declined to identify the source of those suggestions. Instead, postal officials said they have heard “isolated concerns from a few individuals in the public.”

“However, it is worth emphasizing that we have received overwhelming popular support for both the MoverSource program and the address correction service,” the Postal Service said in its statement.

MoverSource is a joint initiative between Postal Service and Pitney Bowes subsidiary Imagitas Inc., which is in charge of producing welcome kits sent to people who fill out change-of-address forms. The kits, which come in official Postal Service envelopes, are filled with advertising and move-related coupons. The Postal Service and Imagitas split the ad revenue.

The address-correction service is different. It provides major mailers with access to updated information about customers who have filled out change-of-address forms.

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