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Privacy Technology

U.S. Postal Service To Develop 'Intelligent Mail' 345

Posted by Hemos
from the tracking-my-santa-claus-letters dept.
securitas writes "The President's Commission on the U.S. Postal Service's final report (PDF) has recommended that the USPS and the Department of Homeland Security develop sender identification technology for all U.S. mail. The commission said Intelligent Mail could bolster security and let consumers track the progress of all mail they send, which has been a top consumer demand in surveys. The report released July 31 reads, "Each piece of Intelligent Mail will carry a unique, machine-readable barcode (or other indicia) that will identify, at a minimum, the sender, the destination, and the class of mail... Intelligent Mail will allow the real-time tracking of individual mail pieces." Privacy advocates like the EFF and Center for Democracy & Technology are understandably concerned. The Final Recommendations are available in PDF format. More at Direct Marketers News and pro-privacy/civil liberties magazine Counterpunch." Jamie adds: This confuses me, because I read a news story in late 2001 which matter-of-factly explained that authorities would be contacting recipients of letters which went through a particular post office around the same time as an anthrax envelope. The implication, which I haven't seen any discussion of then or since, is that records are kept of every letter's travels through every post office. Anyone know anything about that? Update: mec does.
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U.S. Postal Service To Develop 'Intelligent Mail'

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  • RFID (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DigiShaman (671371) on Friday August 08, 2003 @11:31AM (#6645564) Homepage
    So, I guess RFIDs will be embedded into paper at some point in the future I would think.
    • Re:RFID (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mekkab (133181)
      too expensive. Barcode on the stamps. Its cheaper and they already have that hardware infrastructure in place.
      • Re:RFID (Score:2, Funny)

        by PHoliday (149543)
        "in the future" being the key phrase in the above post...

        Years ago it was "too expensive" to have a computer in your home. Good thing nobody threw the idea out citing the fact that we already have "infrastructure in place" to use typewriters.
      • Re:RFID (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        The infrastructure is not in place. Not even close.

        The barcode would have to indicate the class of mail (not difficult), the sender (tricky if not impossible), and the destination (definitely impossible to determine at time of sale of the stamp).

        Let's assume the destination isn't a big deal and just focus on how to identify the sender. Sometimes I buy stamps in rolls of 100. I order them by mail, and I'm the only one who uses them. So that would be pretty easy for the post office to handle.

        Other peop
      • Re:RFID (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Greedo (304385)
        How are you going to barcode a stamp so that identifies the sender? That would imply that you would have to register yourself on some system, and then buy stamps at the post office or a location that can print the unique barcode for you on the stamps you purchase.

        That would mean no more stamps from a vending machine, and probably no more stamps from the convenience store (since the barcode-printing setup would probably be too expensive/cumbersome to install).

        Also, if there is indeed some kind of identifi
        • That would mean no more stamps from a vending machine, and probably no more stamps from the convenience store (since the barcode-printing setup would probably be too expensive/cumbersome to install).

          Pay by credit card, then its all connected ;)

          Either that- or for cash stamps you have to scan the stamp when you drop it off- this can be as low tek as forcing you to drop off at the window, where they check ids (which can be forged... but we'll ignore that for now) or drop off kiosks which ask you to insert
    • UPS [ups.com], FedEx [fedex.com], and a few other delivery companies already do this. And its really nice. When I don't get a package on time, I just check the ID number on the website, and they tell me where it is, how long it stayed there, and so on. It is VERY convenient and saves a lot of worry.

      This is just expanding an already good system to the regular mail. If it can be done reasonably fast and efficiently, I see no problems here.

      The benefits are good and I'm not worried that any government thugs will be obscesssed
      • UPS and FedEx et al are usually used to ship items of size and/or value. Regular letter mail is a horse of a different color.

        Exactly how is this going to work? No more corner mail boxes? You now have to go to the post office and present an ID to mail a letter? Or you have to present an ID to get stamps encoded with a particular bar code? No more stamp machines, and it's illegal to loan a stamp to your neighbor?

        I routinely mail envelopes with no return address. If I do this in the future, am I going
  • intelligent Post Office Employees...
    • by Lord_Slepnir (585350) on Friday August 08, 2003 @11:36AM (#6645661) Journal
      The problem isn't stupid PO Employees, its the fact that PO employees are so bound down by beurocratic rules and regulations that they can't do anything outside of exactly what they're supposted to do. It's not stupid employees per se, it's stupid people at the top making the rules
      • I once wrote "No Such Addressee: Return to Sender" on an object.

        The postman said "You shouldn't write No Such Address, this Address exists, you live here!"

        I tried to explain that I wrote "addressee" and that the *person* didn't live here. That didn't work so I apologized for my 'error' and went on my way.
      • Since I can't post in the related Journal Entry since it's in the archive now, I was wondering how was going the Slashdot game? Did anybody sign up? Because I might have some Pro MS posts to collect on... :)
      • by mrsam (12205)
        that they can't do anything outside of exactly what they're supposted to do.

        My experience shows quite the opposite. They have no clue whatsoever what they're supposed to do.

        I went to my post office the other day. I wanted to get a mailbox. First, they told me that they'll send a registered letter to my home address, and that I'll have to bring it back to the post office to prove that I did not give them a fake home address.

        So, a few days later I don't get the letter, but a notice to go back to the po
    • 13 unions (Score:2, Insightful)

      among other things, the existence of 13 unions in my dads location in tulsa, ok, plays a major roll. dont get me wrong, his has helped him out a lot, im jsut saying that that kind of situation will be prone to conflict, inefficiencies, and slothful reactions to situations.

      management is also a serious problem. he was telling me that when a circumstance that requires a manager comes up, they all hide. when its over, they come out. ridiculous.
      • I work for the PO too; blaming the unions is off base. This is the only unionized job I've ever had, but it's hands down the most grueling job I've ever had too. The union protects you to a certain degree, but you sure can't get away with sloth at that job.

        I think it's actually because of the union that they work you so hard. If this job didn't have high pay (because it's unionized), only the biggest masochists would put up with this job. That's probably why my other jobs were easier - if they had trea

  • "This confuses me, because I read a news story in late 2001 which matter-of-factly explained that authorities would be contacting recipients of letters which went through a particular post office around the same time as an anthrax envelope. The implication, which I haven't seen any discussion of then or since, is that records are kept of every letter's travels through every post office. Anyone know anything about that?"

    how would this be possible? I assumed they were expecting recipients to get in touch wit
    • A record is kept of the destination of every piece of mail, but not of the particular piece or of the sender. So the USPS could know that around the same time that an anthrax letter went through a machine, letter went to particular other places. Theoretically you could track backwards as far as knowing what Post Office's you were receiving mail from, but with very few exceptions this wouldn't tell you anything about the sender or the contents. And if two letters for the same destination went into the sam
    • Dont most originating post offices stamp the letter ? so it should be easy to trace, or am I having flash backs to all those old spy movies where some one looks at the envelope and says 'this letter was sent last tuesday from Zurich'.
      • No none do, its only stamped when the centeral prossessing plant gets it, which could be a few miles, or hundreds of miles away depending on where you live.

        Today, all letters have to have return addresses, a few slip through that dont, but any letter that either

        a) has a return address that is far from where the letter is mailed

        b) has no return address, or an invalid one

        is inspected and either sent to dead letters, or just takes longer to mail if its found to be ok.

        Now letters could always be traced

        • This post is actually pretty interesting, I'm surprised it's not moderated higher. Except that I can't find any mention online of return addresses being required now. This page [usps.gov] recommends it, but says that only certain mailing services require it. I guess I'll have to ask someone the next time I actually go to the post office.
  • UK mail (Score:5, Interesting)

    by danormsby (529805) on Friday August 08, 2003 @11:32AM (#6645588) Homepage
    Mail in the UK often bears red dotted bar code that give key info to automated readers on where the letter is supposed to be going. The dots get put there by an OCR reader and saves having to re-OCR everything.

    Not sure how you are going to identify the sender AND have postboxes where anyone can post a letter.

    • Re:UK mail (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dotwaffle (610149) <slashdot&walster,org> on Friday August 08, 2003 @11:37AM (#6645677) Homepage
      Americans often get "scared" by things like this, as they're unconstitutional and whatever, but is it really worth getting worried about? Check your email with telnet next time you are expecting mail. You notice there will be a recipient address, a postors address, and all the servers is has passed through... Sound familiar? And yes, British post is registered to the point that you can track a piece of mail as it gets lost (sorry... gets delivered). Well, business/franked mail anyway. Obviously most mail can't be traced to the source, just the first Post Office it passes through...
    • Did they *privatise* Royal Mail yet? There hasn't been a quasi-serious move to privatize the USPS since the Reagan Administration. And yes, I realize that the USPS is actually considered a corporation, but when I say "privatize", I mean the U.S. Government spinning it off and no more revenue going towards it, and abolishing its monopoly. Why they deserve to receive $20 million to give a facelift to the USPS logo or actually run commericals and sponsor Lance Armstrong is beyond me. It boggles my mind how
  • by V_drive (522339) on Friday August 08, 2003 @11:34AM (#6645604)
    The stamp is now $2.47

    Make sure to go out and buy special $2.10 stamps to use with your existing $0.37 ones.
    • And you can get it now!

      Express mail rates [usps.gov]
    • The system would be such that the post office is automatically tracking the routing of mail. Cost; nothing they wouldn't have to spend anyway. But if you allow people to check on it via a website that will cost money to maintain the system. Solution: a special stamp that when affixed to the mail allows the sender and recipient to track the mail. This could be either an additional stamp or a combined stamp. It charges at the source and gives UPS (the most vile service to ever be inflicted on residential
  • HA! (Score:5, Informative)

    by MarkusH (198450) on Friday August 08, 2003 @11:35AM (#6645636)
    The implication, which I haven't seen any discussion of then or since, is that records are kept of every letter's travels through every post office. Anyone know anything about that?

    Having worked at a post office clerk in a former life, I would say you must be kidding. I personally handled 25,000 letters a day, and I wasn't in automation, which does 50,000 letters per station per hour. You just don't have time to record any sort of information about first class mail.

    What they probably meant is that they would check on letters with return addresses or was sent registered or certified. Registered, Certified and Insured mail DID get that sort of record keeping, for obvious reasons.
    • by Prizm (52977)
      One of the implications is that the "intelligent mail" also wouldn't require as much human interaction. This is very similar to what FED-EX or UPS do with packages, only on a much grander scale. Less hand sorting and more automated sorting could make this very feasible.
    • What they probably meant is that they would check on letters with return addresses or was sent registered or certified. Registered, Certified and Insured mail DID get that sort of record keeping, for obvious reasons.

      They could probably also get some information on bulk mailings, too, though that'd be through more indirect means.
  • by capt.Hij (318203) on Friday August 08, 2003 @11:35AM (#6645639) Homepage Journal
    I didn't realize that I have a right to send anonymous mail. The practical aspects are the killer for me. If I can't just drop a letter in a mail bin then the US postal service is too restrictive for me to use. I'm not going to go to the post office, stand in line, get ID'ed just to send a letter. I can pay my bills on-line. This seems like a great way to put the USPS out of business.

    • I'm guessing they would just have you buy stamps with your ID embedded. Get a USPS ID card, buy stamps with it at a kiosk, and just stamp and drop a letter in a mailbox as normal. The convenience factor will probably be figured out, leaving only the privacy questions.
  • by Dutchmaan (442553) on Friday August 08, 2003 @11:36AM (#6645649) Homepage
    The more tracking information we allow to be used, the technological conveniences we embrace, the greater the need to keep watch to make sure they are not abused. Technology is a good thing, but like fire, it must be carefully watched.

    If we turn lazy and complacent, the price will be our own freedom.
    • "If we turn lazy and complacent, the price will be our own freedom"

      If you live in the US, I think the bulk of that price has already been extracted. Now it is just a matter of tightening the screws, and cleaning up loose ends.

      Take a step back and look at everything that has happened over the past few years. From rigged elections to people being held without charges being laid to the Patriot Act just to name a few.

      Fortunately the freedom to leave is still available, but I think that is because it is too e
  • by BigGar' (411008) on Friday August 08, 2003 @11:36AM (#6645652) Homepage
    I don't think it's very likely that right now every peice of mail is tracked. Each post office, however would know who itdelivers mail to and it wouldn't be very difficult to notify those individuals of the anthrax. On the other had if someone passing through mailed a letter, that passed through the post office in question, back home, I doubt that either of them would have been notified of the anthrax threat.
  • Logistics? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by daoine (123140) * <[moruadh1013] [at] [yahoo.com]> on Friday August 08, 2003 @11:37AM (#6645678)
    Aside from the cost and privacy issues, is this even logistically possible? According to the USPS, they'll have unique identification for every sender and receiver of mail. (Which, will apparently save them $2 billion by not having to forward mis-addressed mail)

    Really, if we can't keep Social Security organized, don't know who has entered the country, and allow thousands of people escape paying taxes every year, are we going to be able to keep track of every single person living in the country via the Post Office?

    I don't know -- I can't see this being very useful. If I want to track a mailing, I'll use Fed Ex. I just don't see the "consumer demand" for this, and I can't see it being at all useful for making our mail "safer".

  • On the one hand - this is not a bad idea. Who's ever sent a package for an eBay sale or to your relatives or a business - and had to make sure it was there?

    So no - I don't think this is a bad idea.

    As long as it is voluntary. Nobody should be forced to identify themselves in the mail. I still believe that a working democracy absolutely depends on anominity - the ability to state your opinions without worrying about government/oppressive majority/violent minority acting against you.

    Would I use it? Eh
  • If they developed the intelligent mail carrier, and put it to work in my neighborhood. If there's a car parked within 15 feet of my mailbox, I don't get mail that day (God forbid it would have to get out of the vehicle) and the next day I get a pissy note from the "Postmaster" explaining that the mailbox can't be blocked.
  • Want to know why? The additional cost of printing the tracking codes or even putting RFID's will make the USPS charge extra for it. Unless the cost is raised beyond what it is now. USPS is kind of independent. The only reason I would like intelligent mail is it would give us ammo when the credit card companies screw up and cashes our check, but does not apply it to our account. We could bring the tracking info and prove they recieved it. I mean, honestly, if you do mail the "right" way now, it's alrea
    • The proof is called a "cancelled check".

      By law your bank must either return these to you or retain the check or its image for 12 (IIRC) years. Proving that the CC company cached and mis-applied the funds takes a 5 minute telephone converstation with the bank, or perhaps 10 minutes of searching through your chech storage.

      Yes I've done this with credit and telephone companies, as well as the U.S. IRS.
    • More to the point: "...recommended that the USPS and the Department of Homeland Security develop sender identification technology for all U.S. mail. "

      Yeah, and in related news Laurel and Hardy will be cooperating to invent a rocket car that can fly to the moon. God love the post office but they're perpetually fighting to stay solvent, and the OHS is just a joke, period. Beyond seven hundred questionable terrorist alerts and some pamphleteering of Tom Mix style personal survival tips that make about as m

  • So what about just using GPG sigs? ...

    Oh of course... cryptography is bad and used by terrorists.
  • Now why the hell doesn't the post office offer a way to send a letter/package to a specific person/business rather than an address? I'm sick of 1) losing half my mail every time I move 2) having to tell strangers my residence 3) having addresses screwed up because of misunderstood words. If the postal service would just offer the equivalent of a phone number or email address, which is routed via a database and can therefore travel with me, it would solve all those problems. Combine it with a precise geop
    • The technology is available. I've read in several articles over the past 10 or so years that the USPS would LIKE to do this, it would make automation simpler actually.

      The ZIP+4 coding already allows the USPS to narrow your location down to a particular side street. It would only take perhaps two more digits to codify your exact location.

      The problem is that for the majority of the people in the country, there is a strong phycological opposition to being labeled as a number. Having to tell someone you are
  • "Vigilance, Mr. Worf. That is the price we have to continually pay."

    The Drumhead [newhorizonsdesign.com]

  • by CBNobi (141146) on Friday August 08, 2003 @11:45AM (#6645811)
    My initial reaction to reading this was, 'so what?' After all, UPS and FedEx do this to their packages, and it's particularly useful for online purchases.

    From page xvii of the report:
    "Intelligent Mail could allow the Postal Service to permit mail-tracking and other in-demand services via a robust website..."

    So it seems like they're going the UPS/FedEx route, and making it a useful tool for users of the postal system.

    However, later on in the report (pp. 147-148):
    "Intelligent Mail's Security Applications Should be Aggressively Pursued" ...
    "Requiring all mail to identify its sender would likely have a negligible impact on most users...[they] would consider such a requirement a relatively modest concession to ensure their safety"

    They're using the same flawed argument that they used in many post-9/11 dealings, including the Patriot Act. Great.
  • by Kallahar (227430)
    A lot of it depends on how they develop it. For example, the UPS system is good - you can track where a package is in the system and estimate when it will arrive. The USPS should do something similar.

    The potential problems are:
    1) You don't know your tracking number unless you send it from the post office.
    2) The government can now automate "who sent letters to x, ever?"

    I don't see this really helping in terrorism prevention though, the post office already stamps the letter with the first office it goes t
  • "consumer demand" (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Black Parrot (19622) on Friday August 08, 2003 @11:47AM (#6645838)


    Of course, when they say "consumer demand" they're really talking about businesses' demands, but calling it "consumer demand" makes it look less like a privacy issue.

  • Let's look at a certain detail and some historical fact:

    The information meant to be encoded isn't anything that is not already available on the front of the envelope.

    The USPS has a history of telling the government to go fuck itself when the government says "we want to do <some privacy violating activity>". For example, the Postal Service said "no" strongly to the government's request to inspect packages and have the USPS engage in TIPS. (Anyone care to fill int the details here?)

    Yes, there's

  • by EriktheGreen (660160) on Friday August 08, 2003 @11:53AM (#6645914) Journal
    USPS already has some systems that help track mail, including the one that puts those little bar-code like things at the bottom edge of the envelope (they're more or less translations of zip code information).

    Didja know that USPS uses Linux systems to do OCR on address information? It's the only serious use of Linux at USPS, mostly due to anal government service employees who barely managed to finish high school and who can't be fired due to union seniority.

    Actually, USPS has been looking into a mail tracking system since just after 9/11 (I worked there on and after 9/11 for a while) and this report will just help them get funding for that system.

    Really, this isn't a terribly bad thing. If you think about it, it just verifies what post office the mail came from. The information about the sender is going to be the information that the sender presented at the post office of origin for verification.... to a non-trained government employee who probably could make more cash working at mcdonalds (no bull, I have a great deal of respect for those letter carriers... out in all weather, and most get paid about $20k a year).

    I also can't imagine that there will be human checks of the sender information in a lot of cases, since there are drop boxes all over the place for mail, and there's no way they can either remove those or staff them with people.

    Yet another easily subvertable federal system meant to make us safer, but really just another way to spend gobs of your tax dollars on things we need less than more prisons and better schools.

    Erik

    • Better schools, yes (and there's another horribly underpaid position which doesn't get nearly the respect it deserves). But more prisons? The United States has a higher percentage of its population in prisons than any other nation. I'd much rather examine the reasons for that than keep building prisons until everyone lives in them.

  • Like this surprises anyone? The goal here is to remove ALL aspects of privacy from the private citizen. The government wants total, absolute tracking ability for EVERYTHING you do.... in real time...

    As far as UPS/etc... I'm sure their records can be subpoenaed via the patriot act anyway.. so its not much different, just an extension..

    "for my protection my ass"

  • What is this justifiable privacy concern nonsense? YOU are contacting ME. Sorry, you don't get to do that anonymously, no matter how much you whine about your so-called right to privacy. You want to stay anonymous, don't bother me. You want to talk to me, then you tell me who you are.
    • That's fine for you, but I want people to contact me anonymously.

      Don't assume everyone else has the same feelings about this that you do.

      I for one routinely get anonymous leads about abuses in the legal system mailed to me. Those leads often turn into government reform, and I would probably get much fewer of them if people thought they would be identified.

      Anonymity is a corner stone of liberty.
    • If I am contacting you chances are I'm going to tell you who I am, that doesn't mean that I want the government to have a registry of every letter I send you, when i sent it and from where. I don't mind telling you my name when I contact you, I just don't think it has to be in a government database for each letter.
  • Sigh... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kaa (21510) on Friday August 08, 2003 @12:00PM (#6646008) Homepage
    The Washington Post article contains this gem:

    The Postal Service estimates that it delivers about 670 million pieces of mail to more than 138 million addresses daily, leading to concerns among law enforcement and government officials that it is too easy to use the system for criminal or terrorist activity.

    Boggle.

    I am waiting for the moment when it occurs to these people that it's too easy to use the USA road system for criminal or terrorist activity. Or just sidewalks, for that matter.

    Thank god that they don't have any idea that computer networks exist. If they are that apprehensive about a postal system, just imagine the hysterics they'll have when they discover the Internet...
  • by thung226 (648591) on Friday August 08, 2003 @12:04PM (#6646073)
    I work for an organization that sends information to over 20k low income families all over the US. One of our biggest complaints here in the office is a family claiming stuff must have been "lost in the mail", so we end up spending thousands of dollars just resending the same information to them throughout the year. This system would help us keep our records up to date and cut our overall mailing costs. Plus, I suspect it might keep people in our program longer and reduce our attrition rates. I'd be curious to find out how many families we lose based solely on the fact that we don't have the right address for them or some Mail center in Arizona or Alaska seems to always 'lose' our mail.
  • would be if they would develop intelligent employees...
    or sane ones...
    but that reminds me of an acquaintance from a few years ago. he worked for the USPS in one of their mail rooms. his job was to check that the zip codes on their letters that whizzed by him on a belt had the right zip code.
    that's right - all day long, one letter after another.
    kinda explains why people do stuff like this [disgruntledzone.com]
  • Why don't they offer more expensive stamps that allow the letter to be tracked. That way its optional. If I want to send random things in the mail to people, thats my right dammit. And if I want to send myself letters on valentines day, I don't want some kid using a barcode scanner to figure out that I'm sending them to myself! Err....not that I would do that.....

    But seriously, this would be a great optional thing, and a much cheaper solution than fedexing something if you want to track it. But it woul

  • by Nylathotep (72183) on Friday August 08, 2003 @12:12PM (#6646187)
    I use to work for a company that sent tens of thousands of collection notices (outsourced). There was a postal program that they were wanting to beta for tracking mail. It wasnt real time, there was like a day delay, and I think the last point it could track was the destination P.O. but it did track the mail they sent out. The letter itself just had a little bit of extra coding in the same area they use for address change notification. (If you ever look at your mail from a large volume mailer, you'll see a #XYZXYZZ and sometimes a code after it. Those first 7 characters is the mailer, who will receive back the change of address information. The characters following is an optional user defined account number. That service is called ACS (Address Change Service). Its not much of leap after that to tag it for tracking. Anyway, the USPS does use optical scanners that can read and OCR the mail provided its automation ready. Not the greatest OCR because it can have issues with fonts. It wouldnt be a huge jump to be able to track the mail. What slows things down considerably is handwritten addresses which end up being psuedo-hand routed. If you want to avoid any tracking, my recommendation is go handwriting, I cant imagine them using the resources to retype and label every single piece of mail that doesnt hit automation standards.
  • This isn't too different than how UPS and Fedex currently track packages. It's not all that difficult to send a package via UPS or Fedex semi-anonymously, but I doubt that more than a few percent of their shipments go that way.

    UPS, in particular, has the 2-D barcode, and I don't have any idea what's encoded in that. Both UPS and Fedex certainly have "Tracking numbers" which is an effectively unique identifier in their databases for everything to do with a particular package, even if all that information

    • They already have something like that at the post office, it's called Delivery Confirmation and it costs about 40 cents extra to get it on a parcel. The new proposal involves tracking every piece of mail (which costs less than $.40 per piece), which would be much more difficult to do cost effectively.
      • They already have something like that at the post office, it's called Delivery Confirmation and it costs about 40 cents extra to get it on a parcel.

        Delivery confirmation is part-way there but not all the way there. Database-wise only a single entry is made, and that's at the point of delivery. I think that what is being proposed tracks every item through every single step of the entry/sorting/distribution/sorting/distribution/so rting/delivery process, in particular down to the "which sorting machine

        • They do track Delivery Confirmation at more than the delivery point - I work for the post office and I know they're scanned by our clerks to confirm that they have arrived at our post office, and by the distribution center that sends them to us, and at God knows how many points further upstream.
  • As a pay-as-you-go feature for consumers who want it, such technology may be valuable.

    What about those of us who want to send Christmas cards cheap?
  • to send a letter to a friend?
    Or to subscribe to a "subversive" newsletter?

    Everything going to your house will be machine readable which
    means that machines WILL read who gets what and store that information in a database.

    Admiral P0intyhead is having wet dreams over this. TIA dead?? Think again.

    They just keep throwing all these schemes out, like trolling.
    They see who squeals, how many squeal and how loud.
    After awhile people get numb to all the numbskull schemes and
    they just begin to ignore them. That's
  • by Animats (122034) on Friday August 08, 2003 @12:19PM (#6646275) Homepage
    I'd like to redirect all direct-mail advertising to
    • BFI Waste Transfer Station

    • 225 Shoreway Road
      San Carlos, California 94070

      Attn: Mixed paper recycling.

  • by mec (14700) <mec@shout.net> on Friday August 08, 2003 @12:21PM (#6646296) Journal
    Some more link whoring ...

    Postal Theory: Mail Sorter Acted as Mill for Anthrax [ucla.edu]

    Read down towards the bottom:

    Potentially telltale mail was identified using masses of computer data recorded as each letter entering the highly automated sorting centers is scanned for an address, given identifying bar codes recording its time and place of posting, and sent on its way.

    The data include digital images of almost every hand-addressed envelope, which optical scanners cannot easily read, postal officials said.


    The big question is: will the post office stop delivering mail that doesn't have a valid return address?

    In the time of the Unabomer, the PO stopped delivering mail that weighs over one pound and came from a collection box. Mail that weighs over one pound has to be brought in person to a post office.
    • scanners (Score:3, Informative)

      by mikeee (137160)
      Yeah, the mail is sorted by computerized scanner/feeders when they can OCR it (as it's zipping by - this is pretty cool). I think the OCR boxes run Linux, actually.

  • The implication, which I haven't seen any discussion of then or since, is that records are kept of every letter's travels through every post office. Anyone know anything about that?

    Probably not. The plan there was probably to send out a blanket mailing to every customer on every route serviced by that post office. It's fairly simply to do, mass marketers and local governments do this all the time.

    Sender authentication will be difficult at best, and will (depending on actual rules/laws) be resisted by dir

    • I've sent dozens of fedex packages by going to the fedex office, filling in the carbonless form, and paying the shipping charge in cash. I always used my real name and address for the return address (had no reason to do otherwise), but have never been asked for any kind of ID. I could have written just about anything for a return address and sent it. So, no authentication.

      I don't know how UPS does it because I haven't used UPS that way. I've shipped UPS packages from Mailbox Etc. type stores though, an
  • People on Slashdot were so quick to bring up Cliff Clavin, but nobody seems to remember that other famous USPS employee, Newmann from Seinfeld. In the last season, (I believe it was the "Backwards" episode) Newmann revealed to a supermodel the secret that Zip Codes were meaningless... :)
  • by dentar (6540)
    If I want tracking, I'll go to UPS or Fedex. If I want CHEAP I go to the USPS. If the USPS does this tracking bit, mail will get more expensive.
  • by dacarr (562277) on Friday August 08, 2003 @02:55PM (#6648319) Homepage Journal
    It's called "express mail". They only update once per day, but one is able to track it to some extent. Ditto with registered mail, which has the added security of a lockbox on your article.

    Ah, you don't need it there in one or two days or in a lockbox? Sorry, you can only confirm delivery with the other trackable services they offer - certified, insured, merch return receipt ("brown label"), delivery or signature confirmation (which are only offered for priority mail (which is pretty much just first class mail weighing more than 13 ounces)), etc. And again, those only update once per day.

    Keep in mind that this is a government run institution, so their internal capabilities are pretty underwhelming - as such, the ability to track mail in real time (something that all private overnight couriers offer) would be far too overwhelming to the USPS. If you want to know how underwhelming, to give you an idea, last I checked our local processing and distribution facility in Anaheim Hills, there was a bank of XTs and PC286 machines whose purpose in life it was to handle the scanning of PostNET barcodes (you know, those dual-length lines you'll probably find near the address or bottom of the envelope on an article of snail mail you get if you're in the US.) Now just think, do you think that they're going to use a beowulf cluster of 286 and XT boxen to electronically store every article of mail that passes through this little rinky-dink P&DF (one fo two in Orange County, CA)? They pass tons of mail per day, they just don't have the power there, and if they're still running said boxes, do you think they're going to fix what ain't broke? This is the government we're talking about.

    Said barcode, by the way, is a twelve digit code that pretty much boils down to which box the letter lands in, with an added check digit (each digit in the 11 digit portion is added together, check is n, where n is the next multiple of 10 minus the total of the added numbers). Hardly privacy invasion. Example: PO Box 62 in Fullerton 92836 would wind up being a barcode that reads "928360062626". (The total of the first eleven is 44, next mult of 10 is 50, ergo 50-44=6.)

    Don't even ask how I know this shite, it's less painful.

Nothing is rich but the inexhaustible wealth of nature. She shows us only surfaces, but she is a million fathoms deep. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

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