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Some thoughts about the conversion from snail-mail to e-mail
by Rinso
2010-04-07 07:51:20
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The Finnish postal service has started a test to scan normal mail and deliver it as e-mail.
Letters will be opened in the post office, scanned and send as e-mail to the recipient. The letter itself will be delivered too, but the delivery will be limited till 2 times a week instead of five.

It is obvious that this system has some benefits. Not only is it more efficient (scanning a letter is less work than delivering it, especially if much of the process is automated), but the reduced delivery scheme cuts the fuel consumption (and CO2 emissions). A good thing for the environment.
And it is to be expected that scanned letters will more often lead to e-mailed answers, reducing the need for the classical postal service even further. It is another step on the way to paperless communications.

Potential problems:
Off course there is always a backside to a coin.
Not everyone has a computer or an e-mail address. They will suffer from the reduced delivery schedule.
Not every letter/parcel is suitable for e-mail delivery. Again a reduction of service has to be feared.
Express/fast (first class) deliveries are not possible unless additional measures are taken (extra costs for the sender?)

Privacy and legal concerns:

One of the major arguments against filtering of Internet traffic is that it is like opening normal letters by the post office. The integrity of ones mail is the holy grail of privacy. And that is exactly what is happening now. Off course there will be rules and regulations and personnel will be scanned. But the letters will be opened and the recipient cannot determine if they are read and/or misused. He just has to trust the system. And we all know the system will fail. Lets hope it will remain an exception.

Unfortunately the Internet is not a very safe place. Mailboxes are often corrupted and used for illegal purposes (spam, scams, identity fraud,...). In short your e-mail is not safe. When more important and sensitive information enters your mailbox, it becomes more attractive for scammers to harvest this information and use it for their illegal purposes. Off course they can intercept your snail mail too, but at least you would know the post has been opened. And they would need a physical presence en route. Internet information can be harvested anywhere in the world and in much greater quantities.

And what about confidential information? If information is leaked, who should be blamed?
When letters are opened, the confidentiality is compromised. Will this lead to a new (private?) postal service that deals with “for your eyes only” type of mail?

The country side:
A reduced delivery schedule will have the greatest impact in the countryside. There is no door to door delivery of leaflets, newspapers and so on, everything is delivered by the postman. The delivery of the daily newspapers alone will consume all the economic and environmental gains from the reduced mail delivery. (the majority of the aging country side population has no computer, they depend on their local newspapers)
There are also no mailboxes in the countryside. Outgoing mail is collected by the mailman during his delivery tour. So country side mail will face a double delay, once during collection and once during delivery.
Maybe it is a solution to collect your mail at the local post office? They phone if there is mail and you collect it while shopping. It would indeed be a workable solution if they hadn't closed down all the small post offices in the country side.

The verdict:

From my list of negative argument you may not conclude that I oppose this idea. No, I think it is a development that cannot and should not be stopped. But the problems I mentioned indicate that it is not smooth sailing. The test will help to solve the technical problems. But it is the social problems that need the most attention. I just hope the economic benefits will not make the policy makers blind for the social aspects.


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