USPS should develop digital mailbox, says Inspector General

The US Postal Service should develop its own digital mail service and secure archiving facility, a new white paper from the Office of the Inspector General’s office has recommended. The fourth in a series of papers issued by the OIG this year looking at possible opportunities for USPS in the digital world, it proposes development of an eMailbox service and an eLockbox facility.

An eMailbox would be at the cornerstone of a secure, private and confidential network for consumers to communicate with each other, with users authenticated through a USPS verification process that might involve a visit to a post office with identification papers.

Linked to a person’s physical address, an eMailbox would allow a user to opt in to certain communications like opt-in marketing promotions, bills and statements as well as government communications. There would also be a hybrid mail element, with users able to send messages in electronic or physical form.

eMailbox addresses would make use of the Universal Postal Union’s “.post” domain along with a USPS signifier, along the lines of “[email protected]”. Corporations could also be registered with a corporate eMailbox, the paper suggested.

An associated eLockbox would provide, for a premium fee, a secure archiving and document management for user records, with the potential for consumers to open access to certain sub-folders to third parties.

Security

The recommendations for a USPS eMailbox come on the back of a review of digital mailboxes provided by foreign posts, including Deutsche Post and Israeli Post, and US-based private sector solutions including Doxo, Manilla, Zumbox, Volly and Google’s Postini.

The OIG paper argued that the private sector digital mail boxes in the US had the potential to sacrifice consumer privacy in the interest of advertisers, while stating that USPS would always have a “trusted” brand, backed by the regulation of the federal government.

Security for the USPS digital services would need to be above federal government standards, but a USPS eMailbox would have the enforcement power of the Postal Inspection Service to support it, said the OIG.

The paper said in the interest of privacy, an eMailbox database could not be shared with USPS business customers in the way the updated Address Management System is shared to help reduce undelivered letters.

Core competencies

In its paper, the OIG said the services would reflect a “natural extension” of the role of USPS in the physical world, building on core competencies and assets like its address and change-of-address databases.

Rather than looking to replace the physical mail network with a virtual system, assistant inspector general Mohammed Adra said at a recent mail industry seminar that USPS could “seamlessly” bring together the two.

“There will be both digital mail refugees and physical mail refugees in this revolution,” he said. “I think it would be a huge mistake to see this as an ‘either/or’. There are some that say ‘if it can be digital, it will be digital’, but you will always need the physical mail.”

Adra said the new eMailbox would be a “trusted platform” for communications in the way that a company like Visa has become regarding payment.

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