Postal Service ‘welcome kit’ raises questions; White House now cites Privacy Act

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In another email obtained by The Times, postal officials discussed delaying implementation of a project until the privacy questions from The Times “have ended or at least reduced.”

“This is just in an effort to recognize the sensitivity around the issue,” a postal official wrote in an email to colleagues.

Details about that delayed project are unclear, as much of the information was redacted in the email released by the Postal Service.

The issue also prompted extensive discussions involving the Postal Service’s corporate law office, according to the emails.

Under its arrangement with Imagitas, the Postal Service doesn’t hand over this information directly to advertisers, but instead gives Imagitas exclusive rights to manage the program. Imagitas then sells ads to retailers, though it does not turn over the personal information to ad buyers either.

In a previous statement to The Times, Pitney Bowes called the change-of-address program a “model public-private partnership” that has helped reduce postal operating costs by “millions of dollars a year while connecting countless Americans to valuable discounts from local businesses.”

“We and the Postal Service run this program with integrity and consistent with all our legal obligations,” the company said in the statement.

In a November 2011 interview with editors and reporters at The Times, U.S. Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe said the change of address program was vetted by privacy advisers and Postal Service attorneys.

He said the welcome kits with ads and coupons sent to people at their new address were popular with customers, but noted that on privacy issues “we’re looking at double-checking to make sure we’re all set.”

A Postal Service legal memo obtained and reported on by The Times last year proposed 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 the names or addresses of postal customers.

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

In a statement to The Times on the draft, the Postal Service acknowledged “isolated concerns by a very few individuals who do not agree with the Postal Service’s position.”

The statement also said the draft legislation, which Congress did not enact, offered to “make stronger what the Postal Service already believes is a strong legal position.”

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