Implications of Electronic Mail and Message Systems for the U.S. Postal Service

Ch. 7-Telecommunication and Computer Industries, EMS privacy and Security, and USPS Long-Term Viability .79

ly to impose inferior standards on the industry
as long as current regulatory oversight and
safeguards are maintained.
With respect to technology, the picture is
less clear. The selection of technology (e.g.,
computers and printers) for E-COM was made
by RCA under contract to USPS, not by
USPS itself. Some private firms have ques
tioned whether the best state of-the art tech
nology was selected, particularly with respect
to the printing equipment. USPS believes that
the initial E-COM technical configuration was
the best possible using off the shelf products
with proven reliability, and given the nature
of the E COM market. USPS also believes that
it can stimulate innovation in some areas, such
as advanced high volume printing and envel
oping technology, where USPS is one of the
largest users. However, given the relatively
limited expertise of USPS in telecommunica
tion and computer technology, and the rapid

rate of private sector development, the
mainstream of technological innovation ap
pears to be beyond the scope of the USPS re
search and development capability, present or
planned.
As for market innovation, USPS believes
that a Generation II offering like E-COM will
help stimulate innovation by private firms. In
deed, as mentioned earlier, some of the smaller
firms that applied for dedicated access view
E-COM as an opportunity to get into the EMS
market and compete with the larger, more
well established firms. But various telecom
munication carriers and computer service
bureaus have stated that their EMS service
innovation will be stifled unless the relation
ship with USPS is cooperative rather than
competitive, and have proposed alternatives
(discussed inch. 8) that they believe will en
courage maximum innovation in the EMS
market.

EMS Privacy and Security

The subject of privacy with respect to EMS
includes two components of interest. One is
the legal protection afforded such services, and
the other is the technical vulnerability of such
systems to interception of information, and
the willingness and ability of system providers
to secure these systems against such intercep
tion.2"
USPS is required by law to maintain "one
or more classes of mail for the transmission
of letters sealed against inspection." First
class mail, priority mail, express mail, and in
ternational letter mail are "sealed against in
spection.
The sender's choice of the class of mail serv-
ice determines whether the contents are
"This section of the report is based in part on a 1980 USPS
memorandum regarding Applicability of Mail Privacy Legal
Protections to Electronic Ma l. " For additional general discus
sion see chs. 7 and 8 of the OTA report Computer-BasedNa
tional Information Systems: Technology and Public Policy
Issues, OTA CIT 146, Washington, D. C., September 1981.
2239 USC 3623(d),

"sealed against inspection. " Generally it does
not matter whether the mail is physically
sealed. The message contents of a postcard are
legally or constructively sealed, as are the con
tents of letters opened in the dead letter of
fice to determine to whom they might be deliv
ered. The effect of being "sealed against in
spection" is to prohibit the mail from being
opened without a warrant, or any use or dis
closure of information obtained in the course
of opening a sealed letter without a warrant.
The Supreme Court has held that mail which
is sealed against inspection must be consid
ered as though it had been retained in the
sender's home. It cannot be opened without
the consent of the sender or addressee, except
under the authority of a search warrant issued
by a court upon probable cause.2
Access to addressor addressee information,
however, is possible without a warrant. Access
"Exparte Jackson. 96 U.S. 727, 732-733 (1877);UnitedStates
v. VanLeeuwen, 397U.S. 249, 251 252 (1970).

United States. Congress. Office of Technology Assessment. Implications of Electronic Mail and Message Systems for the U.S. Postal Service. UNT Digital Library. http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc39480/. Accessed October 25, 2014.