The US Postal Service –Delivering a 21st Century Solution

On Thursday, Jan 9, 2014, the Wall Street Journal published an article, “Oceans Apart Over Privacy- Differing Views on Data Mining Threaten U.S.-EU Trade Deal” which dealt with the privacy regulation differences between the US and the EU which could lead to difficulties in negotiating a trade accord between the two. The EU has stricter laws relating to the use of data gleaned from the Internet, while anyone in the US using the Internet knows that your online behavior is being tracked and that information is being sold primarily for marketing purposes.  Indeed, Google has been fined over $ 1 million by France and Spain for privacy violations.

This article made me think about the internet practices in the US and how anyone using the internet has no choice but to have their every action tracked. Many people shrug this off as the price they are willing to pay for access to the rich resources available online.  Yet how many of us are really comfortable to have our privacy infiltrated in this manner?  Given our free market environment in the US, business interests clearly should have the right to make a profit from legal activities.  But should we not have the ability to choose whether to reveal our activity? Or keep it private?

It occurs to me that the resolution to this debate is not “either/or” but “both/and”.  It is here where perhaps the US Postal Service can legitimately evolve into the digital world as the trusted provider to deliver communication. The service calls for the creation of essentially a small browser plug-in that would ensure all web queries would be routed through a proxy server that masked the users IP address.  This would allow the user to anonymously browse the internet without being tracked.  The proxy servers would also block and scan downloaded files for malware and viruses.

Services similar to this, such as Cocoon, exist today but are not widely known. If the US Postal Service were to add such services to its portfolio, it certainly has the pervasive coverage to promote awareness and encourage use.

Additionally, a service could be added that would issue an email address that routes messages through the proxy servers. This service would be specifically designed for transaction emails. Originators of these emails would have to be registered/verified to ensure authenticity. This could potentially eliminate situations such as below. These services would be available for reasonable fees.

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Opponents of such an approach might point to the fact that this lies outside the mission of USPS, yet a strong case can be made that it is quite consistent with its Mission, but in a 21st century iteration.

US Postal Service Mission statement:

“The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities.”

Definition of postal services:  the system whereby messages are transmitted via the post office.

For those who eschew government involvement in such services, it should be noted that there is ample opportunity for private sector partnerships in delivery these services.

The US Postal Service remains one of the most trusted brands in the US. By adding a service to its portfolio that builds on this reputation, perhaps Congress, who controls USPS, might find a way to allow USPS to move beyond its 18th century roots.

By Michael Comstock

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