The government is reading your mail
User ID: 179079
01/12/2007 12:00 PM
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There is a serious misconception among the general public that USPS employees randomly and gleefully slit open your personal 1st class letters, reading aloud the contents and pocketing any valuable contents. RUBBISH! Every postal worker understands the seriousness of such an act -IMMEDIATE termination [and possibly jailtime].
Before any of you postalphobes out there start to scream 'LIAR' let me elaborate.
When I first heard of this clandestine Oval office incursion I posted my concerns in this forum -because it DOES lay the groundwork for wholesale invasion of privacy. But these actions are NOT current postal procedure! In fact, as the article in the OP states we [the USPS] have actively battled alphabet agencies over this very issue -and we've usually won. Until now: after the determined efforts of this administration to whittle away even further at another form of the freedom of speech.
Here's the real deal: it has always been established postal policy to only open 1st class mail if there was an active investigation by a law enforcement agency -and, even then a court order may be required [especially if there were corporations involved]. These actions have ALWAYS been thoroughly documented every step of the way -just in case the ACLU or other watchdog group should choose to take a case to court. Other classes of mail ARE allowed to be opened [I've done it myself] for routine inspections - but again, every action MUST BE DOCUMENTED to show why and how such actions were taken.
The 'Administrative Support Manual' [ASM] mentioned in the OP is just one of 5 manuals that all USPS station managers are REQUIRED to follow in day-to-day operations. The others are the: DMM [Domestic Mail Manual], the IMM [International Mail Manual], the POM [Postal Operations Manual] and the ELM [Employee Labor Manual]. Each of these 1-4" thick volumes cover specific areas of the USPS and are extremely comprehensive. Very FEW postal employees even have access to these books... let alone figure out how to read them [there are actually training classes that explain how to find what you're looking for!]. I check them first whenever I have a question regarding official postal policy and if I don't get an answer therein I'll kick it up the bureaucratic foodchain... and hope somebody will listen. They don't always.
In the OP it was mentioned that the USPS records the addresses of senders/recipients on the outside of letters. To an extent, this is true. We have in operation several Remote Encoding Centers [REC's] nationwide [one of the largest is here in my city- in fact, I spent my first 5 years as a USPS employee at one]. In these vast centers several hundred people [usually working housewives/mothers] sit at computer terminals where a letter will flash on a monitor at the rate of 1 every few seconds. The keyer's job is to read the address on the letter to decipher what a machine scanner cannot -crummy handwriting or smeared printing or just simple zipcode errors. They TRY to correct the mistake [I say TRY because they frequently make the matter worse!!] and send the mail on its way. EVERY image shown on their screen is NOT supposed to be saved into a d-base. However, computers randomly check their performance by snagging images here and then when a Supervisor puts them into an 'edit' [or, if they're not doing their job a more extensive 'audit'] mode. This mode will capture a half-dozen or so images so they can be shown to the worker and illustrate their work quality. These printouts are then placed in the employees file for a short period.
BTW: there are different retention periods for all hardcopies of postal documents. Minor forms such as common receipts may only be kept for a few months. Any printed records [including logbooks, etc] that pertain to financial information have the longest retention period: 4 years. After the retention period has expired these documents are REQUIRED to be shredded. That also doesn't ALWAYS happen... minor documents [such as those just bearing a date and zipcodes] are frequently tossed into a dumpster; I've personally purged thousands of pages in my station. I always shred ANY paper that contains customer/employee personal information as I would want MY
information treated the same way.
The really worrying aspect of GWB's newest assault is that it opens the door for more governmental snooping - he seems to think that we are children to be monitored however he chooses. Well, he's wrong... and so are you if you think the USPS approves of these types of actions. In the 12 years I've been with the USPS I haven't yet encountered an employee -whether Supervisor, Carrier or Clerk- who didn't respect the sanctity of the mail. That's not to say there are some people out there in our ranks who have no regard for your privacy: with around 980,000 employees it's bound to happen. BUT it is NOT the normal behaviour of most of our workers.
The American public has trusted us for over 200 years to deliver their mail safely, securely and confidentially. Know that this is one USPS employee who isn't yet prepared to violate that trust.
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