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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, July 21, 2002

Postal Service right to reject snooping

It is likely that our nation will have this or similar conversations many times over in the months to come:

What is the proper balance between defending our homeland against the threat of terrorism and protecting and preserving our freedoms and way of life?

There are no easy answers to such questions. In essence, we want it all: We want absolute guarantees that we are safe from terrorist attacks. Yet we don't want to give up our privacy, civil rights and way of life.

In fact, we don't even want those suspected of terrorism to lose their civil rights.

It's doubtful there will ever be a national consensus on these questions. Rather, they will be dealt with on a case-by-case, incident-by-incident basis.

And the best we can do is to apply to each the common-sense test: Does this particular proposal strike the right balance?

We have said that the Bush administration's proposed "TIPS" ("Terrorism Information and Prevention System") does not strike that correct balance, at least as it has been described.

It would recruit and, in effect deputize, up to 1 million informants who routinely travel our roads and highways and visit our homes. Truckers, meter readers and others would become likely eyes and ears for the government.

It is heartening to hear, then, that the U.S. Postal Service has refused to participate in this program. That's good news for the Postal Service, good news for us and — in the long run — good news for the war on terrorism.

Certainly the Postal Service has a responsibility to participate in law enforcement activities. It already does in numerous ways.

But the commerce of the United States depends on assurances that the mail will be delivered in a secure and completely neutral way.

We don't want the postman to peer through our window as he drops off the mail. And we don't want the Postal Service to think it has government sanction to go through our correspondence and look for material that appears suspicious.

The mail should be private.

Now, if a mysterious package showed up that alerted bomb-sniffing dogs, or had signs of tampering, we'd want the Post Office to check it out thoroughly. But that doesn't mean we want our mailman acting as a government-sanctioned snoop.

The Postal Service made the right decision.