The Obama administration is demanding the nation's two biggest shipping companies police the contents of Americans' sealed packages, and a FedEx spokesman is warning that the move "has the potential to threaten the privacy of all customers that send or receive packages."
FedEx and UPS are in the Justice Department's cross-hairs for not flagging shipments of illegally prescribed drugs the companies say they had no way of knowing were in their possession.
Criminal charges could be coming against the carriers, even though the government has not alleged any deliberate wrongdoing by the companies.
FedEx spokesman Patrick Fitzgerald said his company has a 40-year history of actively assisting the government crackdown on any criminal conduct, but he told WND this probe was very different from the start.
"What is unusual and really disturbing is it became clear to us along the way that FedEx was being targeted for some level criminal activity as it relates to these medicines that are being shipped from pharmacies, and we find it to be completely absurd because it's really not our role," Fitzgerald said. "We have no way of knowing what is legal and not within the packages that we're picking up and delivering in this situation."
"At the heart of the investigation are sealed packages that are being sent by, as far as we can tell, licensed pharmacies. These are medicines with legal prescriptions written by licensed physicians. So it's difficult for us to understand where we would have some role in this. We are a transportation company that picks up and delivers close to 10 million packages every day. They are sealed packages, so we have no way of knowing specifically what's inside and we have no interest in violating the privacy rights of our customers," Fitzgerald said.
In addition to the unrealistic expectation that the federal government seems to have for the companies to know what's in every package, Fitzgerald said protecting the rights of customers is paramount and the issues go hand-in-hand.
"They clearly are attempting to put some responsibility for the legality of the contents of these packages. That's why for us it goes far beyond even just the online pharmacy situation. This really has a chilling effect. It has the potential to threaten the privacy of all customers that send or receive packages via FedEx because the government is assigning a role on us as law enforcement or taking on their role in a way that is not appropriate," Fitzgerald said.
FedEx sought to diffuse the standoff by offering to stop doing business with any pharmacies that the government suspected to be involved in illegal activities. The Justice Department declined, citing the potential for the pharmacies to sue over a lack of due process.
"If the government were to come to us and give us the name of a customer that's engaged in some level of illegal activity, we can immediately stop shipping for that customer. We will not tolerate any illegal activity within our networks," Fitzgerald said. "What we want here is a solution that will apply for the entire industry and serve the public's interest. That's why we find it completely absurd and, to a large degree, stunning that the government is not working with us on that solution as they have with other problems in the past. As long as they're not doing that, there's really no solution even if they were to pursue an investigation or criminal charges against a specific company. There needs to be an industry-wide solution that will put a stop to this problem."
That leaves FedEx and UPS with the task of stopping illegal shipments from sources the government will not divulge.
"The comparison that we've made is a no-fly list. It's as if the government were to go to major commercial airlines and accuse them of some level of criminal activity if they were to allow somebody on the no-fly list onto one of their planes without providing them a no-fly list," Fitzgerald said. "What we want here is the no-fly list for online pharmacies. If they are aware of some level of illegal activity by some number of pharmacies, simply provide us that list and we will stop providing service. It's a very simple solution."
Fitzgerald said no other private carriers are being targeted by the Justice Department, and he has no evidence to suggest this probe is designed to boost the financially strapped U.S. Postal Service at the expense of private competitors.
UPS is currently negotiating a settlement with the government, but FedEx is fighting this all the way.
"Settlement is not an option for us when there's no illegal activity on our part," Fitzgerald said.