[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
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."
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
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.
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 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.
An elegantly simple means
to prevent the delivery of unwanted junk mail would allow residents to
affix a 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
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
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
[now §3008] and its finality are essential; what may not be provocative
one person may well be to another. In operative effect the power of the
under the statute is unlimited; he may prohibit the mailing of a dry
catalog because he objects to the contents-or indeed the text of the
touting the merchandise. … In effect, Congress has erected a wall - or
accurately permits a citizen to erect a wall - that no advertiser may
without his acquiescence. … We therefore categorically reject the
that a vendor has a right under the Constitution or otherwise to send
material into the home of another. … That we are often 'captives'
the sanctuary of the home and subject to objectionable speech and other
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
prohibitory order can be subject to enforcement proceedings in a US
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
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
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'
We look forward to meeting with you to discuss these matters.
|Robert Bulmash - President
Private Citizen, Inc.
|Beth Givens - Director
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
|Jason Catlett - Founder
|Ken McEldowney - Executive Director
|Pam Dixon - Executive Director
World Privacy Forum
|Remar Sutton - Founder
The Privacy Rights Now Coalition
cc: Representative Danny Davis
1526 Longworth House Office
Washington, DC 20515
Representative John McHugh
2333 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-3223
 Rowan v. U. S. Post Office Dept., 397 U.S. 728 (1970) Chief
Justice Burger delivered opinion of the Court.