How else are you going to automate the sorting?  That figures.

But today, the sending address is also scanned, and a record is kept of all correspondence in the national, machinable mail stream. Here in the United States, the government knows everyone with whom you are in correspondence. 

How long are these letter scans saved, your personal dossier? 

In this "Mail Isolation Control and Tracking" (surveillance) system, they say they have all the information, but they don't store it for more than 30 days.  Maybe you can find out for me, and, while you're up, ask to see their no-fly list. 

Is the government's record of our correspondence stored for only 30 days? My address is 50 characters with spaces.  Call it 100 characters.  There were 62 billion pieces of mail in 2015.  Call it 100 billion -- more mail, long addresses.  Even then, all people's correspondence exchanges that occurred in a year could be recorded on a single high-end hard drive (10TB).  Next year, buy another drive.  So much for 30 days, IMHO.  

But wait.  The sorting machines are set up with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to translate only the "to" address into a string of characters.  If you only wanted to sort the mail, you would only need to know where it's going.  But that's not complete surveillance.  The government needs to see who is writing to whom in order to keep us safe.  We must now build new surveillance-**and**-sorting machines that get both "from" and "to" addresses with OCR.   Until then, we'll have to store the whole-envelope image as a graphic image, not a few letters of text.  Keeping whole images until the postal system is rebuilt for better surveillance of the national mail stream -- not better sorting -- is less efficient, but it's doable.  At reasonable resolutions and jpeg compression levels, keeping images  means 500 times more storage.  Oh dear, where can we get that kind of storage capacity?  Do you suppose storage really is only for 30 days? 

Fortunately, there is an answer to anyone's storage prayers.  It is Bluffdale, the new NSA data center in Utah.   Bluffdale has an estimated 3 to 12 exabytes (10E18, ten with 18 zeros) of storage capacity. If we can count on getting only 5 of those exabytes for letter scans, Bluffdale can hold and retrieve the nation's entire letter traffic for 1,000 years before their drives get full. 

Well, it's only metadata.  They don't open the envelopes . . . well, or course tens of thousands of envelopes are opened every year, and no judge's warrant is required for a "mail cover".  By the way, what did they say about the no-fly list? 

J. I. Nelson, Ph.D.

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Telephone Switchboard Operators, Feb 1919, New York

Rev 5July2016, 25Jan2018