by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior EditorThe United States Postal Service has a government monopoly on the delivery of regular first-class mail. Besides mail delivery, the USPS provides other goods and services, such as post office boxes. USPS does not have a monopoly on mail boxes, but the USPS has the power to impose costs and regulations on private box providers, since they in turn receive the mail from the USPS.
Why is first-class mail delivery a government monopoly? There is no economic reason for this, since private entrepreneurs would be very happy to provide this service, often at a lower cost. The real reason for the government postal monopoly is surveillance. With its monopoly, the government can track what mail folks are sending and receiving. Even when the government does not open the mail, it can track the sending and receiving addresses. And when it does not have the sender's address, the government has ways of finding out. For example, when a Swiss bank uses a meter for its mail, the US government can examine the meter style and number to determine which bank uses it.
One way that Americans have attempted to maintain some postal privacy, as well as security, is to use private mail boxes. The USPS calls its postal-box competitors "Commercial Mail Receiving Agencies" (CMRAs).
Now, as reported by Postal Watch, the "Watchdog of the US Postal Service," the USPS is cracking down on the convenience and security of private mail boxes and is imposing major costs on CMRA customers.
Postal Bulletin 21994 of March 25, 1999, is aimed at the 10,000 CMRAs, which serve two million users of postal boxes, many of them small businesses. The new regulation will costs users $1 billion during the implementation phase ending in October. The costs over the next few years will be several billion dollars, forcing marginal firms out of business.
CMRAs have until June 24 to request their mail box renters to fill out a revised form 1583 and have it notarized. The form requires two types of identification and the disclosure of personal information. For corporations, the form requires the names and home addresses of the officers and directors. That way, the USPS and therefore the US government will know the identity of the users of each private mail box. Moreover, the box holder is asked if it does business with the public; if so, its identification records may be provided to anyone who asks, including thieves.
This invasion of privacy is contrary to the Postal Service Privacy Act (39CFR266), but the USPS is trying to get around this law by making the private CMRA request the information from its users.
In addition, each box holder will be required to change its mailing address and notify anyone who sends them mail that the acronym "PMB" (private mail box) must go before the box number on a separate line. After October 11, if the sender does not do this, the recipient may be denied his mail! This will prevent a user from presenting its address as "Suite 1234" or just (#1234), and instead identify itself as a private mail box.
If the purpose of this regulation is to prevent illegal activity, it won't stop the criminals. It will simply drive the criminals to alternatives and induce an underground market for anonymous mail boxes. What the regulation will effectively accomplish is to drive users away from private mail boxes to USPS boxes, eliminating some of the USPS competitors, and enable the federal government to keep tighter watch over the mail people are sending and receiving.
On the immediate front, we can join the effort led by Postal Watch to fight this intrusive, illegal, and costly regulation. More broadly, the USPS monopoly should be entirely eliminated. But the federal government will not give up a tool for snooping on people and enterprises.
That's why the ultimate solution to such violations of our liberties and of enterprise is a constitutional amendment preventing federal, state, and local governments from interfering in any peaceful and honest human action. This includes no government monopolization, restriction, intrusion, or taxation of communications of any sort. Since regulation is just another form of taxation, it shows once again why a single tax only on rent provides not just an efficient source of public revenue, but also the ultimate protection of our civil rights and liberties.
-- Fred Foldvary
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Copyright 1999 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.