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Postal Sensor Fleet Idea Gets Tentative Nod From the USPS 77

Late last year, we mentioned the idea floated by to Michael J. Ravnitzky, a chief counsel at the Postal Regulatory Commission, that the US Postal Service use its wide-ranging fleet to gather and upload useful data of all kinds — everything from weather conditions to RF coverage. Now, an anonymous reader writes "A workshop on this topic is scheduled for April 12th in Washington, DC. This month, the Postmaster General sent a letter to Senator Thomas Carper, Chairman of the US Senate Subcommittee that oversees the Postal Service, expressing interest in exploring this concept."
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Postal Sensor Fleet Idea Gets Tentative Nod From the USPS

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  • We have firemen here that very rarely do things that involve fire, & now we're apparently gonna have the USPS's fleet of Grumman LLV's that do work for the NIST & FCC. Maybe if we labeled these organizations properly we could be more efficient with the budget. (& this is coming from a liberal, not a conservative/libertarian)
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I suppose it's more about what type(s) of data they're looking to gather, I mean weather data on a very fine level like this could produce really enhance the models.

      And if the FCC isn't disbanded by our current Congress the FCC, SEC, and EPA honestly need more teeth. Also more money into the FBI White Collar Division.

      I believe the basic idea for this is to be a massive data gathering operation. It would be no more evasive than what Google did sniffing all the wifi when they started doing StreetView.

    • So, you're proposing that we have firemen lighting fires to fight? In this case they're just talking about retrofitting these vehicles that travel all over the place with sensors, they're already having to do these routes whether or not they've got sensors.

      The real questions are what sorts of sensors and how do we guard against potential privacy concerns for some types of sensors?

  • by moxley ( 895517 ) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @03:55PM (#35543840)

    On the surface this sounds like a good idea, provided that data is collected from sensors only - for things like radiation and chemical/biological agents.....

    However, I could easily see DHS wanting to expand this to more troubling activities....

    • Yeah, weather, RF coverage, radiation, etc... Ssssssssuuurrrreeee..... Sounds fine to me....

      But we already know they have mobile "body scanners" and who knows what else. These days the tinfoil hat crowd doesn't seem so crazy, more like just early adopters.
    • This is just gonna make it harder to get rid of the USPS.

      • For starters, it would require a constitutional amendment. As one of the enumerated powers, a post office is one things Congress does that they're supposed to do.
        • It doesn't forbid competition as the law does now. It's illegal to compete in first class mail service. Allow competition and stop bailing them out and they'll crumble.

          We can have a post office at the whitehouse, but that doesn't mean we have to fund it. I would definitely support getting rid of crappy snail mail services that lose billions each year. It's about time for an amendment to that.

          • If the postal service runs at a loss, and the state funds it, removing state funding would mean raising prices or worsening service.

            If a healthy and affordable delivery service is vital to your economy as a whole (and there's a school of thought that says that it is), then state funding there is no less morale than state funding for roads (also vital for a strong economy).

            • Well prices should go up then. Flying planes into remote areas to deliver mail at 40cents an envelope is nonsensical. UPS and DHL and FEDEX could easily compete if they were allowed to. The USPS is not vital at all.

              Roads are infrastructure, and you can't just have other companies building out a competing set of roads, there are a limited amount of roads to be built. State planning is necessary.

              Everyone benefits from roads, and everyone used to benefit from the postal service, but now most important pape

  • I wonder why he sent a letter ... and email would have been faster :)

    • I wonder why he sent a letter ... and email would have been faster :)

      Reminds me of a former boss who sent our company's reply to a US Post Office RFP via UPS. Needless to say, we didn't win that contract.

  • Add cameras. Take that, Street View!
    • by Sneftel ( 15416 )

      Take that, Street View! Your lies about "streets without mailboxes on them" will not be tolerated!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Am I wrong here?

  • by C_amiga_fan ( 1960858 ) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @04:07PM (#35543912)

    Google collects images for its streetview, and a Wifi sensor to create a "coverage" map, and it gets investigated by two governments (EU and US) plus an anti-trust investigation.

    But if the government-owned post office does it, and "accidentally" collects your userID and other crap, that will be good. It will "help stop terrorism". Yep.

    Sorry. I'm a cynic.

  • How about the first thing they report is when USPS trucks break driving laws? They don't even all have backup beepers. In New York City. Big heavy truck with no backup beeper that loads and unloads a lot in NYC? BAD idea.

  • by Web Goddess ( 133348 ) * on Saturday March 19, 2011 @05:14PM (#35544304)

    PG&E - Pacific Gas And Electric (and other utitilies) have full reign over entering my backyard to check my meter monthly. I've long wondered whether and/or when they'll team up with others to provide sensitive data to those with money.

    • Indeed, this is a major reason why the utilities support the "smart meter" investment (it's also a good way to stop employing meter readers). But there's a big question as to who owns the information, and the utilities are solidly behind the position that they use the info and can use it as they see fit (i.e. sell it and use for marketing). Some details about how it can be misused are here [].

      The DoE actually says that the info is the customer's []. Sad to say legislation doesn't support that, and you can be s

  • by farnsworth ( 558449 ) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @05:17PM (#35544312)
    I worry about one single organization controlling all the aspects of this. Wouldn't it be better to publish an API and/or data format and have third-party fleets (fed-ex, taxis, bus operators, etc) collect the data for a fee? It seems like having layers of boundaries would help prevent abuse, particularly if the data was somehow intrinsically open. It also seems like sourcing the data from disinterested third parties could potentially lead to better/more data if the numbers work out right.
  • Oh, my God, could they possibly pick a more inept, sloppy and non-technological organization in the western world than the USPS. Not only are they the largest polluter on record (little mail trucks get 4 mpg) but they are the number one contributor to tree-cutting and filling land-fills.

    The most sophisticate piece of equipment in the main post office near me is the time-clock.

    Maybe the term “junk mail,” which the USPS calls, “standard mail,” because that is their performance standa

    • by alfredo ( 18243 ) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @06:36PM (#35544914)
      Actually, the Post Office has been automated for a long time. The letter sorting machines really cut costs and mistakes. I think they got them in the late 90's. They could sort something like 30,000 letters an hour. You must be in some back woods location if the time clock is the only machinery they have. In the 90's even the smallest PO had computers. Some of their mail was sorted by machine in a nearby town. "Junk mail" is how small businesses reaches customers that are not connected to the internet for reasons of money or location. The USPS has experimented with fuel efficiency (hybrids, electric). MPG is affected by the weight of the mail, and the stop and go driving from box to box. On my route I drove two miles, walked ten miles. My last vehicle was a S10 with an aluminum screwed and glued body by Cushman. The newer vehicles are lighter and more efficient. The data collection code and equipment will probably be provided by the businesses and agencies. I don't think the PO would be doing the coding. BTW, the Post Office has no control of pricing or markets they can enter. They are also required to have universal delivery. When I was a rural route carrier, there was one delivery 2 miles down a one lane road. So I had to do a 4 mile trip whether I had mail for him or not. There was an outside chance there was some outgoing mail, and I'd get my butt reamed if I missed it. There are the intangibles of the public servant/mailcarrier. Many lives have been saved, crimes solved and prevented, and child and animal abuse reported by mail carriers. Sometimes the only human contact the elderly have is their mailman. I used to check to see if one of my elderly customers remembered to take her medicine. We provide a sense of normalcy, and a human touch. There are a lot of lonely people out there, and a "hello, how are you" from the mailman might be enough to give temporary relief from the crushing loneliness many experience in this impersonal society.
      • Dittos to that. I don't think the social benefit of the USPS can be stressed enough.

        My dad has been a carrier for the past 38 years. In this time he has:

        Stopped a spree murderer.
        IDd another man wanted for murder.
        Alerted police to a hostage situation.
        Physically apprehended an armed rapist in the act. (My mom damn near killed him for that)
        Thwarted armed bank robberies... TWICE.
        Called ambulances and social services for the injured, sick and elderly dozens of times
        Reported dozens of incidents of elder, child, a

        • by alfredo ( 18243 )
          We become the eyes and ears of the community. I remember when the bush admin wanted to use mail carriers as homeland security snitches. We told them to fuck off. The job is dangerous enough without being pegged as a government agent. My route was so physically difficult three straight carriers, including myself, became 100% disabled. I don't know how my replacement has fared. My route was in "crack alley." Nobody wanted the route, so I took it. Until I got injured I enjoyed my route. The punks didn't
  • When I was in the process of retiring one supervisor talked about the PO adding GPS to trucks to gather information on carriers. He said they would be able to track every action from whether the emergency brake is on, doors locked, speed, time between stopping and starting on walking loops. It seemed like just too much micro management of the carriers. Carriers work really hard, and didn't need the aggravation of being watched constantly.
  • New vector for surveillance. We all know that the government never exceeds the scope of its stated intent.

  • Courtesy of the NSA.
  • by Polo ( 30659 ) * on Saturday March 19, 2011 @09:13PM (#35546382) Homepage

    Maybe the USPS could attach (innocuous) physical cookies to people when they receive their mail and use the USPS fleet to (anonymously) track their offline activities. I think this would revolutionize offline marketing and help the economy.

    • by Geminii ( 954348 )
      I forsee a market in cookie removers and cookies which read "Advertise to me and die in a smelter."
  • Great (Score:4, Insightful)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @09:35PM (#35546566) Journal
    Now how about moving to Electric cars. Seriously, The USPS could make a dent in lowering their costs, as well as getting electric cars in the USA moving. They currently buy most of their vehicles from AM General, which are basically CJ-5's, called DJ5s. Instead, AM General could produce an electric version that got 40-50 miles on a charge. That might sound low, but the average USPS vehicle travels less than 30 miles daily(yes, that little). So, with 40-50 miles / charge, they have plenty left over. And if AM General did this up right, they would get a load of work their way.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"