Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Austin police busy searching utility records without a warrant while 127 murders go unsolved

Blogger and former prosecutor turned defense counsel Robert Guest at I Was the State publishes a great piece of bloggerly research to confirm through an open records request that the city-owned utility company, Austin Energy, is providing customer data to Austin police - without a warrant, thank you very much. After all, we're all just one big happy family at the City of Austin! What's a little thing like a warrant among friends? Writes Guest:
It is a sad day for freedom when your power company become an agent for law enforcement. Is the danger from cannabis so great that we must give up our privacy?

The War on Drugs makes us all less safe and less free. Austin Police have 127 unsolved murders they could be working on. Instead theyare they wasting resources on indoor pot farms. Unplug your tanning bed and hot tub or else expect Austin SWAT to visit.
A sad day indeed. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson is fond of saying that there is no greater enemy of liberty than a local city council, and this is a great example. This is the very first time I've wished my electric service was provided by TXU instead of a city-owned utility company. At least with them police would need a warrant to access my customer data, but Austin Energy's "hand it all over" policy encourages pointless police fishing expeditions that waste scarce police manpower and violate utility customers' privacy rights.


Anonymous said...

Are all laws created equil? Are there more important laws than others or is it REALLY about our rights. By rights i mean our God given right to use marijuana, or the right to have our electric useage kept secret. I understand the line has to be drawn somewhere but I am sorta confused.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

There are 2,324 felonies on the books in Texas. Eleven of them involve oysters. Obviously some laws are more important than others.

This practices raises questions not just about rights but also about appropriate use of limited police resources. If more than a hundred murderers who police have not caught are out roaming Austin's streets, is it the best use of time for maximizing public safety if detectives spend their days combing through utility records of people who aren't even suspects? What do you think?

As for the rights question, if Austin Energy were a private company instead of a public utility, they couldn't do it without at least a subpoena, and they'd have to show cause. They couldn't just go on fishing expeditions.

Did that sort out your confusion?

Anonymous said...

What if I wnat to grow tomatoes?

What happened to "A man's home is his castle"? Police are wasting their time and my tax dollars.

I'd much rather be protected from a murderer than a pot grower.

Anonymous said...

Just the sort of low-hanging fruit that bunch of meter readers at APD is fond of. May they go blind staring at those utility records.

Anonymous said...

I think that reviewing utility records costs less than infrared scans from an aircraft or from a vehicle. If the data is digital and in a spreadsheet it can be filtered to reveal suspicious houses without a big investment in time or software.

My question is will the data be used in court or will it be used to target houses for further investigation to get data that can be used in court? Do you need a subpoena to search motor vehicle records for all white Ford pickup trucks in a given county?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

But JSN, the job's not over once they compile a spreadsheet! That's just step one. Then more police resources must be expended to follow up.

Oh, and I'm not sure the DMV analogy works, and not just because in Texas in 2005 they removed ALL limits on cops accessing motor vehicle and DL records, even thumbprints and biometric data. And anyway, I don't see that as justification for this, just as evidence that society is moving away from consumer privacy in many areas during this particular historical period.

Bottom line: APD is letting the availability of data drive which crimes they investigate, not public safety concerns. IMO, if the data were with a private company they couldn't do it, and thus wouldn't, so they shouldn't here. I've opposed privatizing Austin's utility in the past, but if they don't stop this foolishness, next time around I'll support it.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

"Austin police busy searching utility records without a warrant while 127 murders go unsolved"

Sickening. Truly, sickening.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure APD is busy investigating those unsolved murders too. Are you saying that just because there isn't a 100% clearance rate on murders that APD should freeze all other units?

No ticket writing or identity theft cases until all murders are solved? That is just silly retoric.

THe utility records are simply being used to generate leads for further investigation. High energy use is not enough for a cop to search your house. Grow your tomatoes and rest easy.

Anonymous said...

At least ticket writing makes traffic safer and investigating identity theft helps the victim. Who is helped by these investigations?

Anonymous said...

Anon 9

Law enforcement is a limited resource. There is an opportunity cost when cops are enforcing cannabis prohibition. The officers who are reading electricity bills are not spending time solving violent crime.

Victimless crime enforcement makes us all less safe by wasting limited resources. How are we safer when the police invade someones home to stop plant growth?

The police should solve crimes with victims before wasting resources on Prohibition.

Anonymous said...

Dear Robert,

"Victimless crime enforcement" Do you raelly believe that. Do you actually believe that there are no violent crimes or victims involved with Marijuana. I believe the "pot growers" that APD are targeting with the help of the electric bills are way above the non violent casual pot smokers.

Anonymous said...

""Victimless crime enforcement" Do you raelly believe that."

I'm not Robert, but I believe it.

Prohibition of the substance, not the substance, is the source of the violence you associate with marijuana.


Anonymous said...

"No ticket writing or identity theft cases until all murders are solved? That is just silly retoric."

The silly rhetoric is yours, Anonymous at 7:40.

Police are indeed on "fishing expeditions", invading citizen privacy at a cost to the citizen in many ways, even beyond the mis-used and egregiously wasted police hours.

Time spent searching people's electrical usage habits is time wasted not solving violent crime and theft, including identity theft, or even watching, making sure that people are driving their murder cycles and killing machines...motorcycles, trucks, and automobiles in as reasonably safe a manner as possible.

Police definitely ARE wasting time, revenue, and invading privacy and, truly, making people, everyone, less safe from real crime, by letting murderers, rapists, and thieves prowl the streets just that much longer.

Those hours that a trained officer spends poring over other people's electrical usage are paid for with the citizen's money. Money that the citizen who paid it with the taxes he or she pays, perhaps could have more wisely used it, money they earned, for the needs of their own families or themselves or keeping their homes or cars in better condition. New shoes for baby or maybe a down payment on a better house in a safer neighborhood.

Being taxed, giving up your wages, even if it's a bit difficult, and it is difficult, sometimes, for some more than others, to pay for police to search out and apprehend murderers and thieves is not money ill spent. It's not wasted or unnecessary. It's important, and it's worth, perhaps, doing without what you might have bought with that money. Tax money spent for quality peace officer training and hours is not wasted. It's money wisely and well spent.

Money spent to "generate leads" to find who is using more electricity than they should be and therefore "might" be engaged in your pet irk, illegally growing marijuana, is wasted, and to my mind, and many people agree with me, is a crime in itself. It's pretty much tantamount to wasting revenue to the point that it could be considered stealing.

You can call it, "Generating leads" if you like the sound of it, but it's still a "fishing expedition"... a costly one.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:31pm. Prohibition causes violent crime. Marijuana does not cause violent crime.

When alcohol was illegal, the selling of alcohol became a violent criminal enterprise. Today, Coors truck driver does not kill Miller truck drivers for "turf."

When marijuana is re legalized we can let the police focus on real crime; crime with victims.