Mailround goes electronic as Finland tries scanning its post

Would you like to read the regular postal mail that comes through your letterbox on a PC, e-reader or mobile over breakfast? Then move to Finland. Within two weeks, the state-owned national mail enterprise, Itella, will begin opening, scanning and distributing letters electronically to some Finnish households and companies. Yes, you read that right. Postal workers will be opening your mail.

Customers will be notified by e-mail when they receive new letters. They can then read them by logging in to a website called Netposti. It has up until now only been used for a limited amount of company correspondence.

In its initial stage, the postal service experiment will involve hundreds of people and tens of companies in Porvoo’s Anttila village, close to the Finnish capital. However, it’s possible that the experiment will be extended to cover many more areas. It has already attracted considerable interest from around the country.

It’s the drive towards an open market in postal services which is is driving this radical move. Tommi Tikka, Development Director at Itella, says that digital mail delivery is important for the Finnish postal service in order for it to stay competitive. “We need to be innovative because competitors will enter our market next year. And electronic delivery is also something that many Finns want,” Tikka explains.

Robert Stjernberg lives in the experiment village and owns a company that sells solar panels. He’ll soon get all his personal and business letters through the internet. “I am using my computer a lot for receiving information so it makes sense that I can read my letters on it too. It will be so much easier and I am really excited about it,” Stjernberg says.

The letters will arrive to households electronically before nine o’clock in the morning. The physical letters are still forwarded to the receiver’s address as usual, and arrive at their house in the normal manner. In the future, the customer might also be able to choose not to receive the physical letter at all and it would be destroyed by the postal service. However, this solution hasn’t been decided upon yet.

Now, I know what you are wondering, and indeed there are some concerns relating to the secrecy of correspondence when other people’s letters will be opened, but Tikka says that this is not an issue: “The staff doing the scanning are bound to secrecy. They do not read the contents of the letters.”

The digital distribution will also only be provided to people who choose to participate, which makes the scanning lawful, the Finnish Data Protection Ombudsman says.

Digital delivery of letters is provided in Switzerland and the United States too, but customers in those countries have to pay for it – at least €14 per month.

(photo: Itella)