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Postal Service Prepares to Sell Email Encryption

Robert Ray/AP file photo

As reports of mail workers monitoring letters surfaced this summer, the U.S. Postal Service was applying to trademark merchandise aimed at preventing snoops -- outside the government -- from hacking online communications. The potential product line underscores the struggle agencies face in balancing privacy and national security -- all while trying to keep the government funded.

One brand name filed Sept. 6, "United States Postal Service Digital Services,” would consist of, among other things, “tamper-detection capabilities" for safeguarding electronic documents, audio and videos.

A more generic "United States Digital Services” trademark, submitted for consideration on Aug. 16, would include fax transmissions "featuring encryption and decryption."

The name also would cover "electronic mail services in the field of financial transactions,” which presumably could generate Wall Street sales for an agency that has lost $3.9 billion so far this fiscal year.

The filing proposes verifying the identities of people transmitting information -- and, vice versa, confirming intended recipients have received unadulterated information -- through a practice called "security printing.” The technique codes identification information on valuable documents and products. 

These privacy services could potentially make it harder for the Postal Service to fulfill another of its missions -- to fight mail fraud.

The New York Times in July reported: "Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States.” USPS personnel log the items so they can "retrace the path of mail" at the request of the FBI, according to the newspaper. 

As paper mail goes the way of the Pony Express, the Postal Service is looking to enter more digital media markets, including the ID industry. The agency, for example, is managing a governmentwide trial to see if citizens can securely access online services at multiple agencies without having to re-enter personal information or remember multiple passwords. 

In August, USPS officials awarded Canada-based SecureKey Technologies Inc. a $15 million one-year contract to build the "Federal Cloud Credentialing Exchange."

The network is part of a larger White House privacy initiative, called the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, that is planning a worldwide online login network, where computer users can access any number of accounts using the same credentials. 

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