Where do I lick the barcode?
August 13, 2003 10:17 AM   Subscribe

Postal ID Plan A government report urges the U.S. Postal Service to create "smart stamps" to track the identity of people who send mail. [more inside]
posted by Irontom (20 comments total)
While I can see the good this might accomplish, it seems to me that there are huge downsides. Identity theft is already a problem now; how much worse will it be when you have to worry about your stamps? Or maybe they'll use envelopes, and using an unmarked envelope will be a crime...
posted by Irontom at 10:18 AM on August 13, 2003

I imagine this wouldn't happen for the same reason we won't get rid of cash... Sometimes people like to do things without people knowing who's doing them, sending mail would be one of those things.
posted by drezdn at 10:25 AM on August 13, 2003

Sounds like something companies may need and want, but it seems a logistical nightmare for ordinary people. Would I have to buy stamps over the counter and bring my ID? The benefits seem insignificant compared to the costs. Someone smart enough to make anthrax would surely be able to steal a few stamps.

Let the Postal Service offer this new service to companies (or individuals) who want to pay for it, and leave the rest of us alone.
posted by Triplanetary at 10:26 AM on August 13, 2003

eventually all communication with other human beings will be prohibited unless you first identify yourself to government fuckwads.
posted by quonsar at 10:30 AM on August 13, 2003

Dammit! I still miss stamps that you have to lick.
posted by DenOfSizer at 10:30 AM on August 13, 2003

"I still miss stamps that you have to lick"

Seek therapy.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:32 AM on August 13, 2003

Or something else to lick.
posted by orange swan at 10:42 AM on August 13, 2003

to create "smart stamps" to track the identity of people who send mail.
They did, the older stamps. Now, being adhesive mostly, no more DNA samples from licking.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:43 AM on August 13, 2003

I wonder how they will identify you? Social Security Number, finger print, zip code, picture id or and excuse my crassness A PENIS PRINT! LOL!! I've had to many beers sorry LOL!
posted by tljenson at 10:49 AM on August 13, 2003


Women would not allowed to use the U.S. MALE.
posted by thirteen at 10:52 AM on August 13, 2003

Though details remain sketchy, an intelligent mail system would involve using barcodes or special stamps, identifying, at a minimum, the sender, the destination and the class of mail.
This is lame. Usually back the post office, because sending mail from LA to NY for 37cents is the best deal of the day.
(side note)Did you know several years back the post office was told by The Treasury to finance its own bank roll, the Treasury Dept. handled their checking account even their pay checks up until then.

This is dumb for us, unless you no longer have to fill out your envelope. Why lame, all of the above except for the stamp are usually done already. Also sounds like the anthrax scare has large companies telling the post office they don't want to monitor their own mail, you do it for me too.

But could this be good for us? junk mail, we know whom really sent it officially.

"I still miss stamps that you have to lick"
Wondered what ever happen to the grade school paste eaters ;P
posted by thomcatspike at 11:05 AM on August 13, 2003

The current terrorism-hysteria reminds me of an article in an old issue of the Economist. (Sorry, couldn't find it when I searched their web site).

The author's thesis was that one major contributor to the downfall of communism in the Soviet Union was high transaction costs. The state assumed the worst about people all the time, so all transactions had to be checked and rechecked. Getting a driver's license required five different ministries to be involved, to make sure the applicant didn't already have a license, that he wasn't a suspect of some crime, that he had paid his taxes etc.

The author contrasted this with the more optimistic Western way of doing things. For example, it's quite easy to steal someone's credit card number and use it. Credit cards could be made more secure, for example by not allowing their use over the phone or the web. But the inconvenience would cost more than the fraud did. So we use a less-than-perfect system because it makes doing business easier. Lower transaction costs mean higher economic growth, which means more wealth for all of us.

Unfortunately, the current terrorism-hysteria may raise transaction costs quite a bit. These new stamps certainly would, just like that hare-brained proposal about installing anti-missile systems on all passenger jets. No-one seems to have heard about cost-benefit analysis.
posted by Triplanetary at 11:06 AM on August 13, 2003

We Await Silent Tristero's Empire
posted by tr33hggr at 11:25 AM on August 13, 2003

I have a Tristero's horn tattoo, only a handful of people have ever figure out what it was. I think Radiohead would fall into that group.
posted by drezdn at 11:33 AM on August 13, 2003

The postal service worries about business lost to people paying their bills on-line. Doing this would encourage even more people to use the web instead of their local post office. Why deal with security and identification checks, declaring your location and the destination with a potentially surly, suspicious counter monkey? I'd rather bank online then be scrutinized like I'm a criminal, thanks.
posted by onhazier at 12:02 PM on August 13, 2003

And banking online poses no security risks, of course, they can't track that...
posted by orange swan at 12:19 PM on August 13, 2003

I hate those self-adhesive stamps, they always get stuck to my tongue.

Anyway, I think this won't fly. The USPS has enough cost control issues right now before starting up a "smart stamp" program.
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:18 PM on August 13, 2003

What I love is that the whole anti-terrorism folks looking out for us assume that the bad guys will use first class USPS mail. What about Fedex? With a stolen credit card you can drop off a package in a Fedex box and the package gets to whomever the next day. The bad guy can even track the package online. I've paid cash to send stuff via Airborne before and I didn't need to show any ID.

I would think if you absolutely positively want to deliver some sort of terrorist payload, you might want to spend more than 37c to make sure it gets there.

The only thing I still use the postal mail for is to return Netflix discs.
posted by birdherder at 4:32 PM on August 13, 2003

It's quite terrifying how the post-September 11th environment enables daft ideas like this to get an airing. On a similar note it seems all sorts of consumer products and even loyalty cards are destined to be fitted with wireless chips called RFID tags which enable them to be tracked by computer. Gillette are using them to spot stolen razorblades; Marks & Spencer might use them to prevent shoplifting of clothes; and ultimately the idea of doing anything anonymously will disappear.
posted by skylar at 5:25 PM on August 13, 2003

Apart from anything else, a system such as this would mean that every letter would have to be personally handed in at a post office by the sender so that ID could be checked. That could solve your unemployment woes, though.

The whole concept seems totally ludicrous when you consider how easy it is to set up a free, untraceable e-mail address and send a "letter" that way. The only possible justification in security terms would be to require anyone sending a parcel to provide photo ID (which we in Australia already have to do).

There are so many ways of circumventing any conceivable system to monitor mail that it is just laughable.
posted by dg at 8:49 PM on August 13, 2003

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