Act would OK snail mail searches

Thursday, 23 May 2002, 12:52 PM EST

Just a few years ago, the U.S. Postal Service got savaged by privacy advocates after suggesting that private mailbox services were somehow objectionable.

Since services like Mailboxes Etc. could encourage fraud, the post office declared, businesses must limit anonymity by demanding photo ID from all customers.

Three years later, the Postal Service's lobbyists are fighting for Americans' privacy rights -- and opposing a bill in Congress that would allow U.S. Customs agents to open any mailed letter or parcel for almost any reason.

So far, the Postal Service has had little luck: On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the new surveillance powers by a 327 to 101 vote. The bill, titled the Customs Border Security Act, says that incoming or outgoing mail can be searched at the border "without a search warrant."

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