Postal Service Responds to Public, Congressional Pressure
(CNS) - Growing concern among the public and Congress has driven the United States Postal Service to revise its recent imposed mailbox regulations, but critics say the agency's move is nothing more than an effort to pacify those skeptical of its motives.
The Postal Service will eventually enforce its newest policy requiring Commercial Mail Receiving Agency (CMRA) customers to use "Private Mailbox" or "PMB" as an address designation while prohibiting the use of "P.O. Box" by anyone other than post office customers. Agency officials maintain that such a change prevents criminals from hiding behind an address locator which conveys an address located at a United States Post Office.
In addition to its PMB ruling, the Postal Service has also proposed to alter regulations covering the availability of names, addresses and phone numbers of individuals who register businesses holding public and private mailbox-holders. Under such guidelines, opponents contend, individuals who operate home-based businesses with private mailbox addresses, could, themselves, become vulnerable to criminals. Postal Service officials maintain that access to contact information allows potential mail fraud victims a check on possible fraud perpetrators.
But that could be a deadly combination for those seeking to remain out of the reach of stalkers or domestic violence perpetrators, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Reacting to the regulations, the group issued an "Action Alert" calling on its members to keep postal information confidential "while protecting women's lives."
According to NCADV, if a female home-based business owner uses a private mail service, the impact of the agency's regulation could be "fatal," since stalkers, wife batterers and others would have access to her driver's license number, home address phone number and potentially her Social Security number.
In an effort to persuade Postal Service officials to reconsider their regulatory efforts, three House Members wrote a letter to U.S. Postmaster William Henderson requesting a review of its recent policy changes. In their letter to Henderson, Reps. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), John McHugh (R-NY) and Dan Burton (R-IN) cited a significant number of public comments expressing opposition to the agency's plan.
"We well understand the serious problems with some individuals who rent private mailboxes as a way to shield a variety of illegal activities, such as credit card fraud, identity theft, and other types of mail fraud. We also recognize that the Postal Service obtained significant public and industry comment on its proposed regulations as first published in August 1997."
Kolbe, McHugh and Burton relayed constituent concerns over perceived privacy invasions resulting from the what the agency contends is a crime fighting measure. "According to these CMRA customers, the Postal Service regulations go far beyond preventing crime to potentially invading privacy and imposing additional costs on small businesses," the letter said. "While we recognize that the new regulations are intended to help protect Americans from fraud, we believe that the grave concerns from law-abiding citizens who rent private mailboxes calls for the Postal Service's reassessment of its regulations and whether they strike the right balance."
In response to the Members' letter, Henderson said the agency reached an agreement with industry representatives to provide "an additional six months, until April 26, 2000, for CMRA customers to include PMB, for private mail box, in their mailing address." Henderson has also committed the Postal Service to "reemphasize" that acceptable forms of identification do not include social security numbers or credit cards," an issue which has apparently been misconstrued to the public.
Furthermore, the agency is seeking comments on a new proposal countering the existing proposal which, if finalized, directly opposes its proposal to make contact information available to the public on businesses conducting affairs through private mail boxes.
Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) is leading an effort to thwart agency's attempts to impose more regulatory tape with which CMRAs already have to satisfy. Paul has introduced a House Resolution to preempt the postal regulation and has, so far, gained 32 bipartisan co-sponsors. Tom Lizardo, chief-of-staff to Paul, in a telephone interview with CNSNews.com, said the Postal Service's latest move does little to satisfy the underlying privacy concerns. It is "such a small, positive step that it doesn't address our concerns in any substantive way," Lizardo said.
Among the Postal Service PMB proposal's primary critics is PostalWatch organizer Rick Merritt who operates a home based business in Virginia Beach, VA, with a private mailbox through Mail Boxes Etc. After hearing of the proposed regulations, Merritt began to study the economic impact and formed a grassroots advocacy group to fight what he believes to be an unwarranted privacy invasion.
Merritt echoed Lizardo's sentiments that the agency's recently announced changes do too little, too late. Merritt called the agency's efforts a "shell-game" and a "token with very little substance." The Postal Service, Merritt said, has "two comment periods on proposals that are diametrically opposed to each other," a reference to the newest proposal on the availability of names, addresses and phone numbers.
On the agency's contention that it is trying to prevent mail fraud, Merritt quotes crime numbers from the USPS Office of Inspector General's report. The Postal Service arrested 10,000 people in 1998 for mail crimes, he said. "Less than 1,400 of them were for mail fraud," Merritt said, adding that approximately 580 of those were Post Office employees who were stealing mail. More than 4,300 of those arrested were apprehended for mail theft by either Postal Service employees or contractors.