USPS sued for misuse of data

áLance McDermott, a mechanic for mail-processing equipment at the US Postal Service, filed a complaint in the US Western District Court of Washington at Seattle on July 30 alleging that the USPS sold his private data and the data of other workers to credit card companies and others without consent.

A representative at the USPS said that the organization’s law department had not yet received the complaint and therefore could not comment.

The lawsuit filing says: “The Postal Service is subject to the privacy protection requirements of the Privacy Act. Despite this, the USPS allows private businesses, as part of its Strategic Business Initiatives plan, to access and utilize for profit its employee master file, containing personal, private employee information, including the complete home addresses of all career and non-career, full- and part-time employees.”

McDermott said he received numerous mailings during the past two years from a variety of corporate interests.

The plaintiff is seeking class-action status on behalf of all postal workers and wants the USPS to pay back any money it may have made by violating the Privacy Act.

The USPS teams up with companies such as Nextel, Visa and Sprint to send marketing messages to postal employees. The co-branded credit card, cell phone and life insurance offers feature the Postal Service’s logo. The Postal Service says in its Strategic Business Initiatives plan that such agreements provide value to their employees.

Employees can opt out of receiving such offers. However, USPS workers are not given the opportunity to sign consent forms authorizing these types of solicitations.

The Privacy Act specifically forbids federal agencies from releasing employee data without permission.

It says: “No agency shall disclose any record which is contained in a system of records by any means of communication to any person, or to another agency, except pursuant to a written request by, or with the prior written consent of, the individual to whom the record pertains.”

Circumstances in which this action is exempt include internal human resources, US Bureau of the Census, statistical research, the National Archives and Records Administration, civil or criminal law enforcement, congressional subcommittee investigations, health or safety emergencies, investigations by Comptroller General, court order, or a consumer reporting agency.

Calls to McDermott’s lawyer, Steve Berman, were not immediately returned.

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