USPS, DMA Say Customs Bill Would Hinder International Competition

The Direct Marketing Association and the U.S. Postal Service expressed concern last week about a House of Representatives bill that would give law enforcement the authority to open and inspect mail leaving the United States without first obtaining a warrant.

The bill, H.R. 3129, the Customs Border Security Act of 2001, was introduced in October. The search provision is in an authorization bill for the U.S. Customs Service now before the House and Senate. Under current law, customs officials can open inbound mail, search people leaving the country and search outbound mail carried by companies such as FedEx Corp. without a warrant, but cannot open not outbound mail from the USPS.

Though the new provision would allow customs officials to open mail, it would still prevent them from reading correspondence inside without getting a search warrant or the permission of the person mailing or receiving the letter.

The Direct Marketing Association on Dec. 14 said that the proposed legislation might harm an already softened economy.

“This would be the first time since Ben Franklin created the postal service that seizure and searches, without warrants, of outbound international mail would be allowed,” said H. Robert Wientzen, president/CEO of the DMA. “In addition to civil liberties concerns expressed by others, such a measure would slow the pace of mail and add millions to the cost of shipping goods overseas.”

The USPS also has reservations about the bill. In a letter dated Dec. 11, Deborah K. Willhite, senior vice president, government relations at the USPS, said the agency opposes expanding the searches, saying it would harm privacy, impair international postal services and could hurt the postal system financially.

“[The provision] could have a detrimental impact on the U.S. Postal Service's ability to move mail, impair the marketability of international postal services and jeopardize our international mail service,” Willhite said in the letter. “The financial impact on the U.S. Postal Service could be devastating.”

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