For the U.S. Postal Service, the words “digital” and “opportunity” are two words that don’t normally go together. After all, the mail carrier has lost billions of dollars in revenue to customers’ growing fondness for Internet bill-paying, electronic greeting cards and so forth.
Last month, however, Postmaster General Pat Donahoe announced the launch of a “digital solutions group” intended to sniff out potential money-makers in the online sphere. More recently, the USPS inspector general has singled out one in particular: Putting the agency in the digital authentication business.
You can read the IG’s full report here, but in a nutshell, the idea is to let the Postal Service verify that people and businesses are who they say they are online. Lest you start imagining Big Brother in a blue uniform, let’s note that—at least in the IG’s conception–the use of any such service would be voluntary, accompanied by “clear, comprehensive and concise” privacy guidelines.
But with the world of online commerce plagued by fraud and identity theft, the Postal Service is uniquely positioned to play a key part in the market for digital authentication services, according to the inspector general. Not only does it enjoy a high degree of public trust, but it is legally required to protect privacy, the report says, adding that some European posts already have such ventures under way.
The report doesn’t venture even a guesstimate on much revenue this line of business could generate and notes that an in-depth legal review would have to come first. Already, the Postal Service is participating in some discussions on a White House initiative known as the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, but could play “a far more active role.”
Digital authentication is on the Postal Service’s planning horizon, spokeswoman Patricia Licata said in emailed responses to FedLine questions. Most companies, Licata added, “are still trying to find their role in the digital economy.”
More broadly, “we think there is a strong market interest for digital extensions of traditional Postal Service products and services,” Licata said, “and we are positioning ourselves to take advantage of this opportunity.”