Customs Assert Right to Open Private Mail

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Customs Assert Right to Open Private Mail

By Alëx Elliott
Post box

Photo: Geir Ólafsson.

Drugs have been found in about 30 letters which were sent to Iceland so far this year.

The use of the postal service to smuggle illegal drugs is a worsening problem, according to a senior director of the Icelandic Directorate of Customs. Customs officers have the right to open people’s private mail.

Former television journalist and national treasure, Ómar Ragnarsson, blogged recently that Customs had opened a letter from the USA, addressed to him. He went on, in his blog post, to question whether the authorities really have permission to open private letters without making the addressee aware beforehand, RÚV reports.

Karen Bragadóttir, director of the customs department at the Directorate of Customs, says that her agency’s permission to open private post is not up for debate. “Yes, that authorization is unequivocal. It is set out in Article 156 of the customs law that customs officials have authorization to monitor all goods coming into the country.”

The law applies equally to letters as it does to shipping containers. There is no requirement to make the letter or parcel’s recipient aware beforehand when searching for illegal goods. Karen says that around 6,000 postal items are searched every month. The operation would be unworkable if addressees had to be present, or even notified, in every case.

The agency says it emphasizes a strict code of principles when it comes to opening people’s post. They are always put under strong light to try and see what is inside, or carefully felt, before a decision to open them is made.

Karen says the problem of illegal drugs being sent to Iceland by post is a quickly worsening one: “I could say that this year alone, we’re talking about maybe about 30 postal items in which we have found drugs”.

It is a well-known smuggling method to address letters and parcels to well-known individuals or businesses completely unconnected to drugs. The smugglers then ensure they get their hands on the items before they reach their stated recipient.

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