For more than two centuries, the United States Postal Service has been the nation’s preeminent provider of delivery services, connecting the people and businesses of America through their personal and business correspondence. Mail has earned its position as one of the most valuable, effective, and trusted means of communication. Mail is also private and secure. These qualities are at the core of the Postal Service brand. We are continuing our work to protect the privacy and security of the mail as new technology and processes, such as Intelligent Mail services, bring added value to this critical communications channel. Independent surveys consistently show that consumers place great trust in the Postal Service. We will work to maintain that trust.
The term “Intelligent Mail” refers to services offered by the Postal Service that allow for greater understanding of the location of mail as it moves through the mail stream. The purpose of the services is to improve the accuracy, timeliness, and convenience of mail delivery and services, while protecting the privacy and security of the mail. Through these services, the Postal Service intends to bring benefits to mailers, postal operations, and consumers.
To provide information about mail, Intelligent Mail services use machine-readable codes, such as bar codes. The codes contain an assortment of information, such as the date, time, serial number, delivery point, and sender of the mailing. The codes only contain information that the Postal Service or mailer already possess. The only new information that is collected is the location of mail in the postal system as it is scanned.
The Postal Service and mailers can apply the codes to mail containers and mail. The Postal Service then reads the codes via automated equipment during mail processing. One type of information that can be gathered concerns mail containers, which provides information about mail aggregates. This information is a significant value of Intelligent Mail services, improving knowledge about the movement of a container of mail to a common destination. Another type of information that can be gathered concerns individual mailpieces. The Postal Service does not, however, track individual mailpieces as part of an Intelligent Mail service, unless the mailer requests and pays for the service.
Mailers participate in Intelligent Mail services on a voluntary basis, and must register and qualify for the service. Once qualified, the Postal Service will provide Intelligent Mail information to a mailer, or its authorized designee, under appropriate security controls in near real time. The information provided to a mailer or designee will only concern its own mail. This includes information about the location of its outgoing mail, as well as incoming reply mail.
Under Intelligent Mail services, the Postal Service only knows the identity of a mailer if the mailer so chooses to participate and identify itself. For mailers that choose to participate, the information that they provide to the Postal Service is managed under comprehensive privacy protections based on the Privacy Act, as described below.
The Postal Service protects the privacy and security of mail under a long-standing framework of federal statutes and regulations. The statutes and regulations specify strict safeguards for the cover, i.e. the envelope or wrapper, as well as contents of all mail sent through the postal system. These safeguards apply to the mailpiece itself, its contents, and all information on its cover. This includes all information about the recipient that is contained on the mailpiece. The Postal Service does not collect or store information that would allow the Postal Service to identify the recipient, except in accordance with these strict statutes and regulations.
The following describes additional protections for information that is part of Intelligent Mail services, beyond the mail protections described above.
General. The Postal Service has developed comprehensive privacy and data management protections for information provided by the mailer. These protections are based on the Privacy Act, and have been integrated into the comprehensive Privacy Act systems of records that have been established for all Postal Service customers. They govern all aspects of managing data relating to the mailer, including:
Click here for a description of Privacy Act protections for all Postal Service customers. Appendix to USPS Handbook AS-353, Guide to Privacy, the Freedom of Information Act, and Records Management. Protections for mailers using Intelligent Mail services are contained in Privacy Act systems 820.100, Mailer Services – Applications and Approvals, and 820.200, Mail Management and Tracking Activity.
Mailer-assigned code. Mailers commonly assign codes to distinguish mailpieces today. The mailer may use these codes to identify an individual address or a group of addresses. Under Intelligent Mail services, mailers will have the opportunity to assign certain parts of the Intelligent Mail code to their own mailpieces. Consistent with our practices for all mail, the Postal Service will not have access to the information in the mailer-assigned portion of the code, except if mutually agreed upon by the mailer and Postal Service (such as for an added service benefit), or if requested by the Postal Service for security purposes. In those instances, these privacy policies will apply.
Containers. Containers of mail are coded with aggregate information only. Aggregate information cannot be tracked to an individual mailpiece, unless that mailpiece contains Intelligent Mail coding, and so is not covered by these privacy policies. Mailpieces that are tracked within the container, if any, are covered by these privacy policies.
Intelligent Mail services also offer privacy protections for reply mail. Intelligent Mail pieces from a mailer to a recipient may include a reply envelope and insert material that may be mailed back to the mailer. These reply envelopes and inserts may contain Intelligent Mail coding, just like they contain bar codes today. Just like mailpieces sent to a recipient, mail coding on a reply mailpiece may identify an individual address or group of addresses.
There are two parties who process reply mail: the Postal Service, and the mailer to whom the reply mail is directed.
In addition, mailers provide privacy and security protections to their customers in accordance with laws and policies that they may follow. For instance, many financial mailers offer privacy and security protections under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and other safeguards.
Intelligent Mail services were designed to provide greater operational efficiency for the Postal Service and mailers who register for the services. Intelligent Mail services were not developed as a law enforcement tool. However, the services should add to the security of the mail stream. As mailers register, there will be an increase in the percentage of known senders using the mail. Also, the Postal Service will learn more about the path of mail in the event of a law enforcement or public safety investigation. Intelligent Mail services will thus improve the Postal Service’s ability to address identity theft, mail theft, and other abuses, under strict existing safeguards described below.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, a federal law enforcement agency within the Postal Service, is charged with enforcing federal criminal statutes governing mail. These federal statutes include such areas as mail theft, identity theft, mail fraud, prohibited mailings, and the protection of Postal Service assets and employees. In order to protect the mail and the public, the Inspection Service investigates mail and mailers under existing laws and regulations, which place strict controls on when and how investigations take place.
Information gathered under an Intelligent Mail service will only be used for law enforcement and security purposes under these existing laws and regulations. This includes how Intelligent Mail data is provided to law enforcement agencies. Information relating to mailpieces, including the cover and contents, is only available to law enforcement under strict federal statutes and regulations. Information supplied by mailers may only be disclosed in accordance with Privacy Act regulations. Users of Intelligent Mail services are covered by the same, narrowly defined general standard for external disclosures that applies to customers of other Postal Service services. Information collected from Intelligent Mail users may only be disclosed to appropriate law enforcement agencies if there are suspected illegal activities against the Postal Service, or as required by law.
The Corporate Information Security Office within the Postal Service monitors Postal Service systems to ensure Postal Service compliance with federal information security laws, regulations, and policies to protect Postal Service and customer information. The platforms and technologies used by Intelligent Mail services undergo an extensive information security assurance process to ensure appropriate security controls are in place.
Under Intelligent Mail services and this policy, the Postal Service will provide enhanced privacy and security protections for mail, mailers, and recipients, while improving the safety and security of the mail.
The Postal Service has a long tradition of protecting both the cover and contents of mail. Mail protections are grounded in the 4th Amendment, federal criminal and civil statutes, postal statutes and regulations, and court decisions.
Title 18 of the U.S. Code (Crimes and Criminal Procedure) contains all federal criminal laws, including those enforced by the Postal Inspection Service. Title 39 (Postal Service) contains federal civil laws relating to the establishment of the Postal Service and its authority. Other relevant laws are also listed below. The major postal regulations protecting mail are contained in the USPS Administrative Support Manual, Domestic Mail Classification Schedule, Domestic Mail Manual, International Mail Manual, and Postal Operations Manual.
Below are some of the more significant federal laws and regulations that pertain to the privacy and security of the mail.
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