You dared use a private postal competitor?

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted June 1999

Why is there suddenly so much talk about an "alternative tax system"? Because our congresscritters just now started to feel compassion for us, their long-suffering milk cows, after 85 years? It couldn't be because "voluntary compliance" with the existing system is plummeting as folks enter the gray market of offshore e-commerce, a trend which can only accelerate as rumors spread that the already sclerotic computer system of the IRS may not survive Y2K?

Couldn't that help explain the accelerating frenzy to ear-tag and track every American and his money? It is in this context that we must view the frantic haste with which the Clinton administration now seeks to "close the loopholes" and make sure federal agencies permanently record the serial number of every firearm -- as well as the buyer's home address -- whenever there's a transfer. In this context, it starts to make sense that the process of "voluntarily applying" for a Social Security number (like you could really get a job without one) no longer waits till the wide-eyed youth's first job at age 16, but is now imposed on squalling infants in the hospital delivery room -- whether parents sign the consent form or not.

This growing panic that some members of the formerly docile herd may somehow slip out of the observation and grasp of those who enjoy milking us weekly shows up in the recent requirement that federally-regulated banks (any other kind of bank is illegal, of course) report every customer transaction over $5 000 -- justified as a step against drug-dealers, though in fact 99.9 percent of transactions thus reported turn out to involve no "crime."

Yet even that wasn't enough for the FDIC, which beat a hasty retreat from its far more onerous "Know Your Customer" bank snitch regulations earlier this year only after a record 200 000 citizens filed objections via the Internet.

But it didn't take long for them to assault our remaining privacy from another front. Though the average postal regulation draws fewer than a dozen total comments, more than 8 000 citizens wrote in during December of 1997 to oppose a new requirement that will seriously affect 1.5 to 2.5 million individuals and small businesses who rent private mailboxes.

The Postal Service put its new rule into effect a month ago, anyway. (Perhaps they found the 10 favorable responses more compelling than the 8 000 objections.)

As of April 24, according to Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, "Any American currently renting or planning to rent a commercial mailbox must provide the commercial agency with personal information, including two forms of identification: one must display a photograph of the renter, and the other include a 'serial number ... traceable to the bearer' ... generally today's de facto national ID -- the Social Security Number.

"The Postal Service now requires that the commercial agency send the information to the Post Office, which in turn will maintain the information in a database. ... It should not escape notice that the Postal Service, under the Privacy Act of 1974, is prohibited from doing this itself. How ironic, and outrageous, that the Post Office is mandating a private business do what Congress has explicitly forbidden the Post Office from doing."

Rick Merritt of the new organization Postal Watch -- created specifically to oppose these new restrictions -- points out this regulation also requires that the initials PMB -- for "Private Mail Box" -- must by October appear on a separate line on any mail addressed to such an address, "or the Postal Service has said they will return the mail to the sender marked 'undeliverable.'

"This is the first time, to my knowledge, that they will have violated their original mandate to deliver mail to all communities in the United States," says Merritt, a computer consultant who has operated his business out of a private mailbox in Dallas for the past nine years. "And this is what is driving the cost; it appears the minimum first level cost will exceed more than $1 billion," in the next six months, as the estimated 1.5 to 2.5 million private boxholders have to spend time and money advising everyone who might send them mail of this new "PMB" address requirement.

Affected are "a very large constituency of people who live essentially full-time in their recreational vehicles and depend on a mail-forwarding service to get their mail," Merritt says, as well as "survivors of domestic violence and stalking victims who use these mailboxes to remain anonymous from the perpetrators of those crimes. ...

"The justification from the postal service is that people have the right to know where they're sending their mail, that it's deceptive to use 'suite' or just the box number," Merritt reports. The post office also cites the risks of mail fraud and "identity theft," though ironically the new regulation for the first time mandates the creation of a document containing all the information a culprit would need to "steal" a boxholder's identity.

On the other hand, nearly every American who rents a private box is taking that business away from his local post office -- and also now finds it easier to receive UPS and Federal Express packages at the same address, spurring more growth for those postal competitors.

"The post office likes this database because it will give them a 100-percent, no-error list of people who have opted against using a Postal Service PO Box and related services," comments Rep. Paul. "The long-term cost of this rule is incalculable, but will no doubt force some of these businesses into bankruptcy."

What can be done before those 10 000 small, independently owned businesses start closing their doors? Contact your local congresscritter, and urge him or her to support Rep. Paul's House Joint Resolution 55, the Mailbox Privacy Protection Act, calling for expedited action to overturn the new regulations.

Or, contact Postal Watch, 3419 Virginia Beach Boulevard, Virginia Beach, VA 23452, through the group's web site at http://www.postalwatch.org, or by dialing 877-576-7825.

Vin Suprynowicz, assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is the author of "Send in the Waco Killers."

 

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