Homeland Security Committee Approves Senator Collins’ Provision Reaffirming the Constitutional Protections of Sealed Mail

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, of which Senator Susan Collins is the Ranking Member, today approved a resolution that she and Senator Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT) coauthored to reaffirm the constitutional protections of sealed domestic mail. This approval paves the way for the legislation to be considered by the full Senate. The measure is also cosponsored by Senators Tom Carper (D-DE), Norm Coleman (R-MN), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

The resolution was introduced in response to a signing statement issued by the White House following the signing into law of the Collins-Carper postal reform legislation. That White House statement resulted in confusion about the Administration’s commitment to abide by the basic privacy protections afforded sealed domestic mail.

“Our resolution makes perfectly clear to all law-abiding Americans that the federal government will not invade their privacy by reading their sealed mail. Any contrary interpretation of the Postal Reform Act is just plain wrong,” said Senator Collins. “Nothing in the Postal Reform Act, nor the President’s signing statement alters the privacy and civil liberties protections provided to a person who sends or receives sealed domestic mail. Mail sealed against inspection is entitled to the strongest possible protections against physical searches. With only very limited exceptions, the government needs a court-issued warrant before it can search domestic mail.”

The Postal Reform bill, which was signed into law on December 20, 2006, represents the most sweeping reforms of the U.S. Postal Service in over three decades. It will help the Postal Service meet the challenges of the 21st Century, establish a new rate setting system, and help ensure a strong financial future for the Postal Service. And it also protects the basic features of universal service. The new law also provided for continued authority for the Postal Service to establish a class of mail sealed against inspection.

The text of the resolution is as follows:

Whereas all Americans depend on the United States Postal Service to transact business and communicate with friends and family;

Whereas postal customers have a constitutional right to expect that their sealed domestic mail will be protected against unreasonable searches;

Whereas the circumstances and procedures under which the government may search sealed mail are well-defined, including provisions under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.), and generally require prior judicial approval;

Whereas the United States Postal Inspection Service has the authority to open and search a sealed envelope or package when there is immediate threat to life or limb or an immediate and substantial danger to property;

Whereas the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (Public Law 109-435) expressly reaffirmed the right of postal customers to have access to a class of mail sealed against inspection;

Whereas the United States Postal Service affirmed January 4, 2007 that the enactment of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (Public Law 109-435) does not grant Federal law enforcement officials any new authority to open domestic mail;

Whereas the signing statement on the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (Public Law 109-435) issued by President Bush on December 20, 2006, raises questions about the President’s commitment to abide by these basic privacy protections; and

Whereas the Senate rejects any interpretation of the President’s signing statement on the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (Public Law 109-435) that in any way diminishes the privacy protections accorded sealed domestic mail under the Constitution and federal laws and regulations:

Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the Senate reaffirms the constitutional and statutory protections accorded sealed domestic mail.