In a Nutshell: No ZIP Codes for Your Open-Government App
The U.S. Postal Service denied my FOIA request for a list of current ZIP Codes, because the information is “proprietary business information” and its release would not be considered a “good business practice”. This followed their refusal to license to me use of their online ZIP Code API because I wasn’t planning on using it for shipping via the USPS. They suggested that I purchase a $3,000 per year “data product” containing the information. This offering, however, has so many technical and licensing problems that it’s essentially unusable.
My Hunt for ZIP Codes Started When I Became Interested in Mapping Restaurant Health Inspections
I create apps which increase access to laws and government info. This is mostly a labor of love, earning enough money to cover the costs of running the Internet servers.
There isn’t yet an app or website for easily browsing restaurant health inspections in Multnomah County, Oregon. The County does have a web app, but it has a lot of issues, and won’t be upgraded until late next year.
Critically, while sorting through the County’s data for each restaurant, I found that the city is missing, although the ZIP Code is there. And so to place these on a map I needed a current list of ZIP Codes and corresponding city names.
My search for this simple information culminated in this rejected FOIA request to the U.S. Postal Service. This is because my “open source” open-government use of the data is not an acceptable reason to either 1) provide me online access to the USPS API, or 2) send me a current list of ZIP Codes and cities.
I’ll follow up with more details and the insurmountable problems with the USPS’s data product.