Safety Security & Sustainability

   Postal Security


Postal Security

In a narrow sense, the term postal service is reserved for national services as recognised by the Universal Postal Union, an agency of the United Nations. In a broader sense, the global mail and parcel delivery system effectively consists of two parts: national postal services and private letter and parcel delivery services. Deregulation in many countries complicates this simple picture: while the UPU still requires that each state has an officially designated postal service, the actual operations may be carried out wholly or in part by private companies.

 Postal security was brought to the attention of the world by the 2001 Anthrax attacks in the USA, where letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several news media offices and two Democratic U.S. Senators, killing five people and infecting 17 others [1]. In response the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has developed guidelines for identifying suspicious packages and letters and procedures for opening mail [2].

Narcotics and counterfeit drugs smuggling through postal channels is nowadays a constant reminder of the urgent need to strengthen postal security. Recent reports indicate the increase in drug trafficking with use of postal channels as a low risk means of transporting narcotics internationally. For example in China: Guangzhou Customs seized over 100 rug smugglings by mails during 8 months in 2009 [3] in weight totaling to 144.8 kilograms. Similar observations were reported by the US Postal Service [4]

Postal security faces similar challenges to other supply chain segments, and in this context it is important to reuse related knowledge and technologies. A key challenge is creating uniform solutions. Existing  systems vary widely.  It is not just a question of differences between public and private or between postal and parcel. Within the same postal sector very different logistics networks exist in different countries due to geography, history, legislation, and the availability of depots and hubs across the country. The various postal networks have thus grown over time based on local constraints and market shares and acquired a ‘shape’ and structure that can deviate quite substantial from a theoretically optimal. This applies to postal as well as parcel operations. Also and as expected the infrastructure for a country the size of the UK for example has to rely on a very extensive combination of collection/delivery depots and hubs to guarantee that a parcel that is picked up today from say the south can reach Scotland  tomorrow morning. The same network structure would make no sense in a very small country.

Postal security specific challenges include:

·          Targeting, detection and threat handling solutions suitable for uninterrupted flow of the enormous volumes of letters and parcels;

·          dealing with information sharing and interoperability between postal security stakeholders, amidst large scale market, organisational and regulatory changes affecting the sector. 

Increasing security in postal supply chains is a global challenge that should be considered in the broader context of secure EU and international supply chains operated by responsible and collaborating business networks.



1. http://www.fbi.gov/anthrax/amerithraxlinks.htm

2. http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/newsroom/commissioner/messages/archives/2001/oct182001.xm

3. http://info.e-to-china.com/news_updates/75672.html

4. http://www.newser.com/story/83411/pot-smugglers-prefer-postal-service.html

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  Additional Information for Postal Security
  Postal Technology International
Journal of Commerce
Risk Management
Security Journal
World Customs Journal
Official Journal of the European Union
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