USPS unveils certified e-mail

The U.S. Postal Service rolled out a new service Jan. 16 that makes it possible to transmit sensitive personal information to federal agencies in digital form with assurance that it has not been viewed or altered.

The service, NetPost.Certified, is the equivalent of certified e-mail, said Chris Laidlaw of IBM Corp.

IBM is one of several companies that worked with the Postal Service to develop the secure electronic transmission capability. Both the sender and receiver of NetPost.Certified messages receive electronic certificates certifying that their file has been received and has not been tampered with.

Such guarantees of privacy and security are necessary for agencies such as the Social Security Administration and the Health Care Financing Administration that need to shift thousands of forms, files and other information they now mail on paper to digital form for transmission via the Internet.

For now, NetPost.Certified will be available only to government agencies and individuals such as doctors who send information to agencies. Postal Service officials say they eventually intend to offer the service to the public.

NetPost.Certified has the advantages of being low-cost and providing immediate delivery while retaining the privacy and security of traditional mailed documents, said Dan Curtis, a vice president of WareOnEarth Communications Inc., which developed the data exchange portion of NetPost.Certified.

Data sent via NetPost.Certified can be as varied as letters, government forms, digital X-rays, patent photographs and highly detailed scientific photographs.

The Postal Service charges 50 cents per transmission to use NetPost.Certified.

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