Postal Service’s ‘welcome kit’ raises privacy concerns

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Still, privacy analysts say concerns remain.

USPS privacy policies state, “If you have provided personal information to register or purchase a product or service, we will not use that information to contact you about another product or service unless you have provided express consent.” But it’s unclear how anybody who signs up for the change-of-address program can opt out of receiving commercial advertisements.

“I don’t know how they’re getting around the Privacy Act. It certainly seems like a violation of the spirit of the act,” said Robert Ellis Smith, publisher of Privacy Journal.

When movers fill out a change-of-address form, a privacy notice on the form states that the information supplied will be used to forward mail. Although the form is voluntary, USPS says it can’t forward mail without it.

USPS also informs movers that it does not disclose personal information except in “limited circumstances,” including to “contractors who help fulfill the service.”

Imagitas has come under scrutiny over privacy issues in recent years. In lawsuits, it has been sued over accusations that it violated the federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings by Pitney Bowes. The lawsuits stemmed from a program called DriverSource, in which Imagitas entered into contracts with states to mail out auto registration renewal notices along with third-party advertisements.

In December 2009, a federal appeals court upheld a lower-court ruling in favor of Imagitas, but other state lawsuits remain pending. In SEC filings, Pitney Bowes said Imagitas had filed motions to dismiss the lawsuits and that the DriverSource program did not “reveal the personal information of any state resident to any advertiser.”

Postal ties

Among those who have served on the Imagitas board of directors is Mary Elcano, former general counsel for the USPS, now the top lawyer at the American Red Cross. In response to questions about Ms. Elcano’s work for Imagitas after leaving USPS, a statement provided through a Red Cross spokeswoman confirmed that she left her position with USPS in 2000.

“After receiving approval in a USPS ethics opinion in August 2004, she joined the Imagitas board of directors in September 2004 and served for less than a year until May 2005, when the company was sold and her involvement in Imagitas ended,” the statement said. “As a board member at Imagitas, she performed the normal fiduciary and oversight duties expected of a board member.”

Imagitas also has past ties to the Carlyle Group, where the chairman of the USPS Board of Governors, Louis J. Giuliano, is a senior adviser. In 2000, the Carlyle Group announced it made a $20 million investment in Imagitas to “broaden its e-commerce offerings for government agencies.” Imagitas was sold in 2005 to Pitney Bowes, and a USPS spokesman said the board has not voted on any matters related to the Imagitas agreement.

Mr. Giuliano was appointed to the USPS board in June 2005.

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