[Note: Graphics were not included in the letter sent to House & Senate members.]
 
January 19, 2005

Representative Tom Davis
Chairman - House Government Reform Committee
2348 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-4611
 
Representative Henry Waxman - Ranking Member
House Government Reform Committee
2204 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Senator Susan Collins - Chairman
Senate Government Affairs Committee
72 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
 
Senator Joseph Lieberman - Ranking Member
Senate Government Affairs Committee
706 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

                            Re: Protecting Postal Service Privacy in the 109th Congress
 
Dear Representatives and Senators,
 
As the 109th Congress acts on important issues affecting the U.S. Postal Service, we write to urge you to include postal privacy reform in any legislation considered by the Committee.  While American residents now enjoy substantial federal protection from telemarketing sales calls, and state protection from a variety of other invasive marketing practices, the U.S. Postal Service has not made significant strides to reduce unwanted junk mail. 

Over thirty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court noted in Rowan v. U.S. Post Office, that:
"In today's complex society we are inescapably captive audiences for many purposes, but a sufficient measure of individual autonomy must survive to permit every householder to exercise control over unwanted mail. ... Today's merchandising methods, the plethora of mass mailings subsidized by low postal rates, and the growth of the sale of large mailing lists as an industry in itself have changed the mailman from a carrier of primarily private communications, as he was in a more leisurely day, and have made him an adjunct of the mass mailer who sends unsolicited and often unwanted mail into every home. It places no strain on the doctrine of judicial notice to observe that whether measured by pieces or pounds, Everyman's mail today is made up overwhelmingly of material he did not seek from persons he does not know. And all too often it is matter he finds offensive."[1]
The Court's reasoning remains valid today. Yet the past three decades have brought an increase of unsolicited 'junk' mail.

For example, according to the Mail Monitor research service of Synovate , the credit card industry mailed 915.9 million offers in 1992 with a resulting response rate of 2.8%.  As response rates fell over the years since, the credit card industry tries to offset it by sending more junk mail. With only the first half of the credit card industry's junk mailing data for 2004 available , an extrapolation of that data puts the credit card industry on track to have mailed 5.359 billion offers last year with a resulting response rate of .35%.  That is an anticipated 1 response for every 285 credit card offers mailed in 2004 as they boosted junk mail output by 585% in 12 years.
nimitz
To illustrate the environmental, and privacy impact of just this one segment of the junk mail industry last year,  consider that if each of the 5,340,243,500 unopened / unresponsive / trashed credit card mailings weighed just two-thirds of an ounce. The aggregate waste tonnage of those trashed mailings would exceed the weight of a battle ready NIMITZ Class aircraft carrier

Again, this example highlights just one of the many segments of the junk mail industry.  Taken as a whole, they flood our mailboxes and surreptitiously commodify our private information[2] while seeing only their bottom line - blind to our right to be left alone as well as the environmental impact in the creation and disposal of their 'junk'.

Since the U.S. Postal Service has failed to provide effective new tools to shield individuals from unwanted junk mail, we urge the Committee to consider the establishment of:
 
National Do-Not-Mail List 
        Last year the telemarketing do-not-call registry grew to over 80 million cell and telephone numbers.  As  popular as the do-not-call registry is, it is remarkable that a similar one-stop program is not yet in place to limit unwanted junk mail in our mailboxes. 
        Residents would place their name and address on a national do-not-mail list that would be scrubbed against consumer lists offered by database marketing firms and credit reporting agencies as well as the advertising mailers' in-house lists. Residential names and addresses would be standardized by the agency maintaining the do-not-mail list. Firms that submit lists to the agency for scrubbing would use the same convention to standardize their list, prior to submission.

No-Junk-Mail Sticker
          An elegantly simple means to prevent the delivery of unwanted junk mail would allow residents to affix a sticker USPS supplied all weather adhesive sticker with check-off options, on their mail receptacle indicting their unwillingness to receive either or both,
    a) mail that is not specifically addressed to an individual (saturation mail)
    b) specifically addressed mail that includes an addressee term such as "Current  Resident"
        USPS instructions accompanying the sticker would include information about the resident's statutory right to opt-out of prescreened credit offers and display the toll free telephone number (888-5-OPT-OUT) collateral to that right.

Company Specific Do-Not-Mail Program
        Under 39 U.S.C. 3008, residents may register their unwillingness to receive advertising mail from specific firms, by using USPS form PS 1500. This mechanism (and the statute) resulted from the Rowan case mentioned above, concerning 'pandering' junk mail.  The U.S. Supreme Court held that addressees, in their own sole discretion, may determine what is sexually provocative to them.  In the Court's opinion, Chief Justice Burger stated:
"Both the absoluteness of the citizen's right under 4009 [now 3008] and its finality are essential; what may not be provocative to one person may well be to another. In operative effect the power of the householder under the statute is unlimited; he may prohibit the mailing of a dry goods catalog because he objects to the contents-or indeed the text of the language touting the merchandise. In effect, Congress has erected a wall - or more accurately permits a citizen to erect a wall - that no advertiser may penetrate without his acquiescence. We therefore categorically reject the argument that a vendor has a right under the Constitution or otherwise to send unwanted material into the home of another. That we are often 'captives' outside the sanctuary of the home and subject to objectionable speech and other sound does not mean we must be captives everywhere."
    By using PS 1500, an addressee causes the USPS to issue an order prohibiting the subject mailer from sending further mail to that addressee. It also prohibits that mailer from selling that addressee's data to other junk mailers.  Firms that violate the prohibitory order can be subject to enforcement proceedings in a US District Court.
    Since 9-11-2001, it seems that fewer enforcement actions have been brought against violating firms. And junk mailers seem to be taking advantage of the circumstance by commonly violating prohibitory order notices they may now receive.
    If enforcement is indeed on the decrease, Congress should take steps to increase it.
   
USPS's National Change of Address (NCOA) program
        When moving to another home, many Americans hope to leave their junk mail behind.  But the USPS's NCOA database enables direct marketers, in search of 'new leads', to identify and locate recently moved residents, without that resident's knowledge or express consent.  Direct marketing licensees have access to a comprehensive list of people who have made permanent changes of addresses under the U.S. Postal Service NCOA system.  We urge you to create simple opt-in protections to enable residents, upon moving, to prevent the use of their personal NCOA data from being transferred to direct marketers for junk mail lead targeting.
 
Cooperative Mail Rule
        In 2003, the Postal Service proposed changes to the cooperative mail rule that would broaden for-profit mailers' access to discounted rates normally reserved only for charities and non-profits. The new rule removed limitations on for-profit mailers, allowing them to partner with charities where discounted mailing rates could be employed.
        We urge Congress to reverse this new rule, as it presents risks to the public and charities.  Not only will it increase unwanted junk mail people receive, it will also allow for-profit mailers to take advantage of the public and charities by charging exorbitant rates for solicitations. It encourages for-profit mailers to create bogus charities that attract donations simply for the enrichment of the for-profit mailer. (This is has already become common in telemarketing.)  Finally, the new rule jeopardizes legitimate charities, because the credibility of their solicitations will suffer, as the public becomes aware of the 'partnered' for-profit mailers' activities.
 
We look forward to meeting with you to discuss these matters.
 
Sincerely,

Robert Bulmash - President
Private Citizen, Inc.
http://www.privatecitizen.com
Beth Givens - Director
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
http://www.privacyrights.org
Jason Catlett - Founder
Junkbusters Corp.
http://www.junkbusters.com
Ken McEldowney - Executive Director
Consumer Action
http://www.consumer-action.org
Pam Dixon - Executive Director
World Privacy Forum
http://www.worldprivacyforum.org
Remar Sutton - Founder
The Privacy Rights Now Coalition
http://www.privacyrightsnow.com

cc:    Representative Danny Davis
        1526 Longworth House Office Building
        Washington, DC  20515

        Representative John McHugh        
        2333 Rayburn House Office Building
        Washington, DC 20515-3223


[1] Rowan v. U. S. Post Office Dept., 397 U.S. 728 (1970) Chief Justice Burger delivered opinion of the Court.
[2] http://privatecitizen.com/mail/list-medical.html   and  http://privatecitizen.com/mail/list-consumer.html