In Defense of 'Snail Mail'

If we phase out the postal service, where will we be if the Internet is disable or even just compromised?

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Perhaps there are those who aren't too troubled by the U.S. Postal Service's announcement that it plans to stop Saturday deliveries beginning in August. Snail mail, as it is so sneeringly called, is so 20th century, a relic from a time when we didn't have the technology to conduct electronic communications. That smug judgment has always been flawed, but became more glaringly so with the disclosure that the E-mail accounts of both former Presidents Bush had been hacked. It doesn't appear to be a national security threat, but certainly, a deep personal violation has been committed. And we are all vulnerable to it.

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Paying bills online, sending intimate notes electronically, sharing photos you wouldn't necessarily want everyone in the world to see—all of these are wonderful conveniences and enormous potential threats. The personal violations are bad enough, but once someone's financial records—an individual's, a bank's, or a corporation's—are hacked, the damage can be far-reaching and traumatic.

Yes, mail can be stolen, but it's less likely to happen, since its simply more cumbersome for a thief to scope out an appropriate victim and then try to gain access to his or her bank records or personal information. There's something comforting about opening a locked mailbox and finding your sealed letters—especially since opening someone else's mail is a federal offense (something many a college student has pointed out to parents wishing to open the envelope with their children's grades). Does it take longer, and does it cost more, to get mail hand-delivered? Of course. But it's also safer, and critical to national security. It'd be pretty hard for a terrorist cell to take down the uniformed members of the U.S. Postal Service as they carry our letters and packages. It's alarmingly easy to mount a cyberattack. And if we phase out so-called "snail mail," where will we be if the Internet is disable or even just compromised? During Superstorm Sandy, many people in my neighborhood lost their Internet connections. Mine went out briefly. But I got my mail.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

The purported cash deficit the Postal Service is facing has more to do with absurd demands that the pension fund be fully funded well into the future—something not demanded of other institutions. And it's being used as an excuse by antigovernment types to reduce government services. But snail mail isn't just a matter of government jobs; nor is it a lame backup to the modern world of electronic communications. It's a matter of financial and national security.

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