We've encountered a spike in our hits, part of me thinks its mostly teenagers snatching text for term papers. But based on analytics, I think a lot of our readers from Reddit and Hacker News deserve thanks for your continued readership. Thanks!
In this post I have a slightly controversial recommendation, that the United States Postal Service: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Postal_Service should go digital. When I posted this idea on hacker News, I got a bit of push back. The idea that letters would go fully digital met online resistance because those services are currently provided for free by corporations like Google (Gmail), Yahoo, and Microsoft (Hotmail). First, ask yourself, can corporations continue to provide these services infinitely for free? Secondly, ask yourself if you can trust them with your communications?
As humans, we send a lot of private information via email, when we signed up to these email services, mostly in the 90s, we used them as throw-away accounts, a simple means of communication with friends, something we could easily stand to lose. As e-commerce and social network accounts grow everyday to encompass our lives, these sites rely on email as a reliable backbone for identity verification and commerce management. Pay-Pal, one of the largest online payment routing outlets relies on email addresses to send and receive money for individuals, relies heavily on personal email accounts.
If you're Internet savvy, there's a good chance your utility bills, phone bill, mortgage info, and even bank statements have gone paperless, leaving you to rely heavily on the security and privacy of your email account. Citing this, why are we so heavily vested in free email accounts that are hosted by companies that do not have fixed rules on maintaining our privacy, security, or continuity of service?
Now, I hope no offense is taken by these large companies at what I've typed thus far, I am pretty sure that all of these companies would be much more profitable if they didn't have to maintain the massive servers they dedicate to hosting your free email accounts. I also hope they'd continue to provide services of this kind if indeed my proposal works out one of these days.
Spam is also an unfortunate side effect of an unaccountable (corporate owned) public email system, with no rules on identity to govern our current email system, official email accounts can be spoofed and routed through servers that are hosting valid accounts, the same ones we all use to send our high value emails, my suggestion accounts for that and will be detailed below.
Now, enough preamble, I believe the United States Postal Service should create an official e-mail system. Here are a few key points I’d like to make in order to prove that I’m not being crazy by stating this:
Fast Point-To-Point Communication – The USPS would establish centers for transmission of documents, they could modify existing postal service locations to do this by adding high-speed and encrypted network connections to receive data from each other. Immediate transfer of official documents, checks, and even multimedia could be possible from Postal Service Locations with ease, and for a fair price. Data transmission on the high-speed network cited above would allow point-to-point transfer of official documents by having each Postal Service Location serving as both a transfer and receipt location.
Official Email based On Your Home Address – The proposed change recommends a system of email addresses which would be assigned both to a user by their real name, and home or business address. For example, Joe Johnson lives at 1342 Sebring Street in Boston, an example email address for him would be jjohnson1342SSBMA@usps.gov, while his work address might be at Microsoft 1455 Redmond Ln. in Seattle jjohnsonMICROSOFT1455SWA@usps.gov. NOTE: The convention I used here is strictly an example, scientists who are far smarter than me could invent a much better and easier to use naming convention; perhaps they would pick the people who design license plates, (e-mail naming conventions are not the important issue here).
Official Communication And Security Backed by Federal Law – By having the Postal Service (A Federal Agency) manage this proposed digital system, the protection offered by law for fraud and mis-use would apply, allowing the citation of official federal offense for mis-use. This would deter most spammers from using federally assigned email addresses, or using offices to transfer fraudulent checks and hacking accounts. The same rules for wire fraud and mis-appropriation of the Federal Postal Service (currently used) would be applied to this proposed solution.
HUGE Cost Savings On Postal Delivery – There’s a reason for the use of the word “mail” in e-mail, after all its just another format for delivering text. So why can’t the USPS realize this? Yes you still have to send goods like toys ordered off of ToysRUs.Com or EBay, but I’ll counter that later. The current postal system has around 583,908 (2010 estimate) employees. They are poised to lay off many of those employees in one of the worst economies ever. This is all symptomatic of a lack of cost control in the system. Why are we delivering tons of paper physically for this service, Airplanes full of paper, trucks driven all thought the city burn diesel fuel every day to deliver text on paper almost every day of the week when email is nearly instant and it requires no additional physical delivery. Startup investment is a little high in this proposed system yes, but once it’s running, the costs would plummet far below what the current system entails (over-head wise).
A Clearer Path For Non Print/Physical Goods – The agency under this proposed improvement would have a much clearer path for physical goods, no longer requiring as many physical facilities for sorting and storing the huge volume of paper letters. Companies like UPS and FedEx have dominated in personal delivery due to overnight delivery being a key feature. The USPS could recover vital ground by having a more secure and Federally Backed delivery system for print materials, and would seal the deal on reliability by having a dedicated data channel for instantaneous data transmission and printing. “Overnight Delivery” (for documents) would become the new “snail mail”.
Creating Jobs – As cited before, the economy is bad. This is just the right kind of overhaul that leaves a great legacy for a President or Administration. The USPS (under this proposal) would shift from hiring and training individuals to sort mail and drive trucks, into being systems administrators, network techs, and technical trouble-shooters, all valid skills they could use elsewhere, while working towards building a more skilled work force. The agency would also greatly benefit by cost savings of no longer requiring as many trucks, and planes, (as a result) polluting less AND having less physical liability (truck/delivery accidents and lost mail). Employees would most likely require a government clearance in this scenario to warranty security to a degree, (but, by nature, they would be federal employees anyway so it’s not really a controversial proposal).
When a mail document is sent from one person to another or company, horse, etc.(citing this new proposal) it would be physically “scanned” for its original document format at a physical location off of an official hard copy. After that step, the document would be converted to a digitally (encrypted) document, transferred to its point of receipt (another USPS –official- location nearest to the intended recipient), and then decrypted and printed by official Postal Service personnel onto Official USPS paper. Checks could also be transferred in this manner, and printed to Official USPS stock as well. The originating document(s) for documents and checks could be verified by Post Office personnel (before transmission and after receipt) to verify validity of the transmission. Paper used to print transmissions of documents and checks could be official stock with authenticity controls similar to paper used for printing money. Liability to the agency would be limited by acceptance of the customer, by having them certify the authenticity of the document they intend to send or receive. This would also save lots of paper by not requiring stamps and envelopes. I'm not out to kill stamps, but their death is an unintended side effect of technological advancement.
The benefits of this proposal would not only be payable to the USPS, Benefits would be payable to US, as a people. US citizens would gain a much faster method of mail delivery, more security, and better value on their hard-earned tax contributions. We could also begin to use our email accounts for any kind of legal/secure communication, payments, and identity concerns, even to send documents to official agencies without visiting them like (Yikes!) the DMV. This account would allow you to know that you have a warrant out for your arrest BEFORE the cops pull you over, or could be used to let you know about speeding tickets before they double. Because the government would be running your official email address, you could choose to simply ignore it, or to use it only for secure communication while also using your Hotmail, Yahoo, or Gmail account (etc.) for any other (less secure) communication you may have (like verifying your FaceBook Account, or registering on World Of War Craft). If the US got to work on this solution, the same would likely influence developed foreign countries, who would likely follow along in making digital communications a standard for official domestic communication. This also depends highly on whether you trust your government, but lets be honest, if you think they can’t read your Gmail account already, you’re probably not even using email yet.
This proposal for process improvement would allow a new format for secure and accountable communication. This channel would be accountable because users would be tied to a verifiable physical address that could be easily changed based on their residence. It would serve to link agency information (such as DMV records with veteran status, or either with tax information). This proposal would also open the gateway to security advancing in technology, by creating an accountable management system for private identity services (not reliant on private corporations and their open-ended policies) that would be a stable e-commerce system with less fraud capabilities than the current model. And this system also ensures a clear path to legally requiring effective binding agreements and authenticity of communication because its backed by the Federal Government (and laws and statutes therein). As an individual, your concern over implementation of this proposal, your concerns should be minimal, as is is only an improvement on a system that has existed since the late 1700s, where your communications have been tracked and accounted for since well before you were born. You would use this account only for sending and receiving items that are legal, and in accordance with the law, if you don't it would be your responsibility, but tat the same time, regulations and rules would need to be established to prevent mis-appropriation, undue tracking or "wire taps", and fraud within the agency itself. In order for this to work, the right to have other email and mail delivery options (open-source and private services and tools) should be upheld.
I know what you’re saying at this point, “DuH!”, “This should have been done long ago!”. And Yes, you’re right; the best revolutions for change that occur, as shown by history, are based on long periods of suffering. Postal Service Workers have been suffering (job stability-wise), The US Government has been suffering (budget-wise), When trying to find stamps for sale or delivering an urgent letter at the last minute - we’ve all been suffering, Grandmas that deliver annual birthday cards with money in them to kids have been er… suffering. The time to move into the new age is long overdue, lets make something good happen.