NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Post Office Power Grab Threatens Privacy

August 17, 1999

The U.S. Postal Service has issued rules that require some 1.5 million to 2.5 million private mailbox holders -- users of commercial mail-receiving agencies -- to provide personal information such as home addresses and photo identification. The information would be available to the public, and Rick Merritt of the Cato Institute says it would make the small businesses and individuals vulnerable to identity and credit card thieves.

  • Under the new rules, renters of private mail boxes have to "contact every person or entity that has sent them mail in the past or might send them mail in the future and instruct them to add the acronym "PMB" -- for private mail box -- in the address for all future mail.
  • Starting as early as October 24, 1999, mail without the new code will be returned to sender -- even if the address is correct.
  • The rules violate even the Postal Service's own privacy standards -- but were promulgated because the private services embarrass the agency's dominance in mail carriage.
  • Businesses are attracted to the private boxes because they offer more convenient hours than traditional post offices, will accept deliveries from private carriers and offer a stable address for businesses that may change addresses.

The USPS held two comment periods on the new rules and received 8,097 objections to them -- versus just 10 in favor. The direct costs alone of the new regulations could approach an estimated $1 billion, says Merritt.

Source: Rick Merritt, "The U.S. Postal Service War on Private Mailboxes and Privacy Rights," Briefing Paper No. 48, July 30, 1999, Cato Institute, 1000 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001, (202) 842-0200.


Browse more articles on Government Issues