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    Washington Times: USPS memo highlights privacy violations

    The Washington Times reports on a United States Post Office memo concerning customer privacy:

    The U.S. Postal Service has quietly sought to “immunize” itself from Privacy Act challenges to its address-correction service, a program that gives credit, marketing and data-service providers access to updated name and address information for tens of millions of Americans.

    Postal officials say the program helps reduce costly undeliverable mail that can clog up the mail stream, but its failure to obtain consent to sell customers’ information is raising alarm bells from within and outside the agency.

    A Postal Service legal memo obtained by The Washington Times proposes pursuing legislation to “immunize the current address correction services from any challenge under the Privacy Act or Section 412.”

    The Privacy Act prohibits federal agencies from renting or selling personal information unless specifically authorized by law. Section 412 refers to a provision in federal law that bars the Postal Service from making public names or addresses of postal customers. […]

    In the legal memo obtained by The Times through the Freedom of Information Act, postal officials wrote that the address-correction services have been “provided for years and are not based on obtaining written consent from customers.”

    The legislation hasn’t surfaced in Congress, and postal officials say they stand by the current address correction program. In a statement to The Times, the Postal Service defended the program as consistent with the Privacy Act and Section 412. […]

    But Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, said the Postal Service’s public statements don’t square with the legal memo.

    “Obviously you don’t go running to the Hill asking for legislation unless you anticipate problems,” he said. “I think they see trouble.” […]

    Peter P. Swire, a professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, who served as the Clinton administration’s chief counselor for privacy in the Office of Management and Budget from 1999 until early 2001, said federal law prohibits selling mailing lists without written consent.

    “The tricky question is whether the routine use is permitted under the statute,” he added. “I think it’s not clear.”

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