Privatize the U.S. Post Office to Reduce Domestic Surveillance?
Critics of the U.S. Postal Service complain about ongoing financial costs (“The Post Office Lost $2 Billion In Just 3 Months“), mediocre service, and pension liabilities:
At the end of fiscal year 2013, USPS had about $100 billion in unfunded liabilities: $85 billion in unfunded liabilities for benefits, including retiree- health, pension, and workers’ compensation liabilities, and $15 billion in outstanding debt to the U.S. Treasury—the statutory limit. (General Accounting Office, Mar 13, 2014)
See, for example, this September 28, 2015 Washington Post article, “Should the Postal Service be sold to save it?“
|“Package for you…” (Three Days of the Condor)|
For debaters researching reducing federal surveillance policy, another reason to shift the U.S. Postal Service to non-government operation–perhaps by giving it to current employees, along with obligations to fund pensions or retired postal employees–would be to decrease federal government surveillance.
In many cases the USPS is watching customers. In every community federal postal workers know what kinds of letters everyday people are receiving. They can tell by delivering mail (and gathering return envelops) who supports environmental groups and who supports Tea Party groups. Other USPS programs record return addresses (without warrants, story below).
DENVER — Within an hour of FOX31 Denver discovering a hidden camera, which was positioned to capture and record the license plates and facial features of customers leaving a Golden Post Office, the device was ripped from the ground and disappeared.
FOX31 Denver investigative reporter Chris Halsne confirmed the hidden camera and recorder is owned and operated by the United State Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement branch of the U.S. Postal Service.
This October 27, 2014 New York Times article “Report Reveals Wider Tracking of Mail in U.S.” outlines wider surveillance policies and problems:
In a rare public accounting of its mass surveillance program, the United States Postal Service reported that it approved nearly 50,000 requests last year from law enforcement agencies and its own internal inspection unit to secretly monitor the mail of Americans for use in criminal and national security investigations. …
The surveillance program, officially called mail covers, is more than a century old, but is still considered a powerful investigative tool. At the request of state or federal law enforcement agencies or the Postal Inspection Service, postal workers record names, return addresses and any other information from the outside of letters and packages before they are delivered to a person’s home.
Law enforcement officials say this deceptively old-fashioned method of collecting data provides a wealth of information about the businesses and associates of their targets, and can lead to bank and property records and even accomplices. (Opening the mail requires a warrant.)
Two separate problems with the status quo USPS, according to this article and others. First, USPS employees routinely surveil U.S. citizens without warrants:
The audit, which was reported on earlier by Politico, found that in many cases the Postal Service approved requests to monitor an individual’s mail without adequately describing the reason or having proper written authorization.
Second, in the cases where there is a genuine police or national security concern, the USPS does a poor job or tracking requests:
In addition to raising privacy concerns, the audit questioned the efficiency and accuracy of the Postal Service in handling the requests. Many requests were not processed in time, the audit said, and computer errors caused the same tracking number to be assigned to different surveillance requests.
On the Cato Institute DownsizingGovernment.org site, Tad DeHaven, has a November, 2010 post making the case for “Privatizing the U.S. Postal Service.” DeHaven points to the success of full and partial privatization in other countries, plus to the success of reforms that allow competition in letter delivery:
In many countries, reforms have been pursued through the commercialization and corporatization of the postal service. Under such reforms, the government retains full or partial ownership but introduces modern practices involving management, labor compensation, finance, marketing, and capital investment.
In some countries the private sector has taken large ownership stakes. For example, 69 percent of Germany’s formerly government post office Deutsche Post is now privately owned.45 In the Netherlands, 100 percent of its formerly government post office is privately owned as TNT Post.41 The British government is considering selling off to private investors its ownership of the Royal Mail. At least 10 percent of the shares may be reserved for postal employees, which would have the benefit of reducing the unions’ incentive to take actions negatively affecting the company’s bottom line.42
While some nations have partly or fully privatized their post offices, a parallel trend is for countries to reduce or eliminate postal monopolies and allow for entrepreneurs to offer competitive services. New Zealand and Sweden repealed their postal monopolies in 1998 and 2003, respectively, and Germany and the Netherlands followed suit in 2008 and 2009, respectively. In 2008, the European Union announced a plan to eliminate the national monopolies of all EU member states by 2013.
Postal liberalization has produced more efficient services in many countries, but governments continue to impose unwarranted postal regulations in even the most reformed markets. For example, governments still typically mandate that universal service obligations be met, and they often also mandate certain service standards and pricing. (Source.)