Implied right of privacy, packages.

[Quoted in other thread]

So, is there an implied right of privacy when you pack and ship things? Is it different because it’s not the government? Special rules for shipping companies?

The US postal service can legally open packages that they consider suspicious. Opening first class mail requires a warrant, but other classes of mail do not.

Doesn’t sound like this was the USPS though.

I didn’t read the other thread and just quickly glanced at the article. It sounds like police were involved and there wasn’t any mention of anyone that works for or owns the Pack N Ship being in trouble. I want to dig deeper (more on that in a second), but I’m guessing that means it was legal. OTOH, plenty of illegal things aren’t followed up on when the end result is negative. Case in point: I’ve seen several cases where someone thwarted an armed robbery by using their concealed weapon in a store that has signs on the window stated guns aren’t allowed (which in my state makes it illegal). No charges, to the best of my knowledge are ever filed against that person.

Then my question is, and I’d like to look this up, when does it become mail? When postage is put on it? When the person shipping it decides it’s mail? My guess is that it becomes mail/federal property when it’s handed to the post office. For example, if I give you something and say ‘can you run this to the post office for me?’, I can’t imagine it would be a federal crime for you to open it on your way over there. Similarly, I’m guessing it’s not a crime if I open mail I see sitting on your kitchen counter. My WAG is that the issue is between the time the post office (and not Pack n Ship, Mailboxes Etc…) takes possession of it, until the time the addressee takes it out of their mailbox.
That’s going to be my bet for the moment, but since most people would consider something to be ‘mailed’ after dropping it off at one of those stores, I don’t know.

I think the Pack n Ship store is acting as an agent for the USPS and therefore is bound by the same laws and expectation of privacy.

That may be it then. I know they contract out the storefront parts of the postal service to other businesses.

Anecdotal to be sure, but I have a friend who worked at a Postal Annex and they’d get packages in that were piss-poorly packaged weed shipments that were stinky and titanically obvious and if they were feeling magnanimous they’d tell the person with the package that it stinks like weed and maybe they’d better go repackage it to keep the smell down and sometimes they’d just wait until the person was gone and either open it up for the weed or just pitch it. Amazingly enough, they had absolutely no complaints regarding this.

I pulled this as an example from the UPS Terms and Conditions which you agree to when you sign off on the shipping agreement and i’m sure it’s the same with other carriers.

"6. Right of Inspection

UPS reserves the right in its sole and unlimited discretion to open and inspect any Shipment tendered to it for transportation, but is not required to do so.

Somewhere in their agreement to act as an agent for UPS or other carrier, the store has the same rights and obligations as the carrier. Note the “…sole and unlimited discretion…” part which leaves the sender and recipient with no legal recourse.

The upside to this is that it makes shipping hazardous shipping hazardous in shipping or potentially hazardous to the recipient goods more difficult to do and easier to track.

"7. Refusal of Service

UPS reserves the right to refuse to provide service, among other reasons, for any Shipment which by reason of the dangerous or other character of its contents may,in the sole judgment of UPS, soil, taint or otherwise damage other Shipments or UPS’s equipment, or which is improperly or insecurely packed or wrapped, as determined by UPS in its sole judgment. Before accepting any Shipment, UPS reserves the right to require sufficient verification, as determined by UPS in its sole and unlimited discretion, of the Shipper’s name and address, or any other information necessary to accept the Shipment for service. UPS reserves the right to refuse to provide service for any Shipment or to or from any location, or to provide alternative service arrangements, or to intercept, hold or return any Shipment when, among other reasons, UPS, in its sole and unlimited discretion, determines that it is unsafe or economically or operationally impracticable to provide service, that its services are being used in violation of federal, state, or local law, or for fraudulent purposes, or when the account of the person or entity responsible for payment is not in good standing."

As stated above, First Class envelopes and packages require a search warrant to open, but all other classes do not.

"4. Can Postal Inspectors open mail if they feel it may contain something illegal?

First-Class letters and parcels are protected against search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, and, as such, cannot be opened without a search warrant. If there is probable cause to believe the contents of a First-Class letter or parcel violate federal law, Postal Inspectors can obtain a search warrant to open the mail piece. Other classes of mail do not contain private correspondence, and therefore may be opened without a warrant."

Think the U.S. government really wants to save you money with Priority Mail? Think again! :stuck_out_tongue:

*Waves at the Men in Black!" :cool:

Google is your friend:

"18 U.S.C.
United States Code, 2011 Edition
Sec. 1702 - Obstruction of correspondence
From the U.S. Government Publishing Office,

§1702. Obstruction of correspondence
Whoever takes any letter, postal card, or package out of any post office or any authorized depository for mail matter, or from any letter or mail carrier, or which has been in any post office or authorized depository, or in the custody of any letter or mail carrier, before it has been delivered to the person to whom it was directed, with design to obstruct the correspondence, or to pry into the business or secrets of another, or opens, secretes, embezzles, or destroys the same, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

(June 25, 1948, ch. 645, 62 Stat. 778; Pub. L. 103–322, title XXXIII, §330016(1)(I), Sept. 13, 1994, 108 Stat. 2147.)

Historical and Revision Notes
Based on title 18, U.S.C., 1940 ed., §317 (Mar. 4, 1909, ch. 321, §194, 35 Stat. 1125; Feb. 25, 1925, ch. 318, 43 Stat. 977; Aug. 26, 1935, ch. 693, 49 Stat. 867; Aug. 7, 1939, ch. 557, 53 Stat. 1256).

Section 317 of said title 18, U.S.C., 1940 ed., was incorporated in this and section 1708 of this title.

Minor changes were made in phraseology.

1994—Pub. L. 103–322 substituted “fined under this title” for “fined not more than $2,000”."


Once it passe over the counter or you put it in the mailbox it’s illegal for anyone but the receiver to open it*. I think you can ask for it back if you don’t leave the station, but once you do, it’s a done deal. I’ve seen people change their mind in the Post Office and receive the envelope/package back and a refund.

*Except of course the USPS as noted above.

As for opening someone else’s mail, that’s explained too. Pat, pat…Good Google

In a nutshell, it depends on knowledge, whether it’s in error and intention.

Moving away from mail (government) and shipping (terms of service)

In General, is there such a thing as an implied right to privacy? (different to specific state legislation?)

In the U.S. it’s covered by the Fourth Amendment which prevents law enforcement from using evidence heard/seen gained without reasonable suspicion against someone in court.

In a social context, if you’re having a conversation in a public location, you don’t expect someone you don’t know jumping in or listening to what’s being said. Or if you’re reading a book or newspaper, you don’t expect someone to be reading over your shoulder.

In a this, you don’t expect someone to repost everything you write to another forum, blog or other social media.