Ameren UE selling customer information to local governments

11-19-2008

This story came out recently, in the Missourian. While it made the print copy, is was not added to the electronic online edition:

Using a private company to provide information about citizens is a “disturbing” practice, a Washington City Council member said this week. Guy Midkiff raised that point during the council discussion segment at last Monday’s meeting. He questioned the practice of obtaining information from AmerenUE for use in the city’s occupancy inspection program. Midkiff, who owns rental property and has been an outspoken critic of the program, said he finds it “unsavory” to have a company selling data to the government. “You’re using a private company to check up on citizens,” he said.
Darren Lamb, director of planning and engineering services, said the city pays the utility company $150 per year for a monthly report that outlines when a new tenant signs up for electrical service.

.
The city uses that information to track when tenants move out and into rental units, but does not receive any information about the amount of a tenant’s bill or whether they are delinquent on payments, Lamb said. “We don’t want to know that.”
The council authorized that arrangement as a way to make the inspection fair for all landlords, Lamb explained.

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Landlords can get around inspections by paying city utility bills for their tenants, then rolling the cost into the rent payments, Lamb noted. In that way, the city would not know when the occupancy of an apartment changes. But most landlords are reluctant to do the same with electrical bills. “The council decided we should do that to level the playing field for landlords,” he remarked.

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Councilman Roger Langendoerfer, who advocates a program of checking on out-of-town contractors who don’t purchase city business licenses, said some cities do the same thing with the DIG RITE system used to locate utility lines. “They sell to the city of Union the same service,” Langendoerfer said. Lamb told the council that he is open to suggestions on how to close any loopholes with the inspection program. He said it’s up to the council if it wants to repeal the contract with AmerenUE.

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The program involves inspecting items that address life safety issues including sanitary conditions both inside and out, adequate smoke detectors, operable windows and doors, adequate ingress and egress from sleeping rooms, minimum electrical services and systems and structural integrity of the building.


Ed Pruneau
Managing Editor
Washington Missourian
636.390.3048 Direct
636.239.7701 Main Line
pruneaue@emissourian.com

For the record, I am opposed to governments purchasing private information from private companies. I believe it is a 4th Amendment violation and smooths the way for increased violations of our Constitutional and civil rights. I certainly can understand setting basic standards for a government to regulate safe living conditions – but the system should not be invasive and degrade our hallowed rights. There is a greater good, though, in making sure the health of a community is not impacted because of squaller ridden living conditions. No doubt these properties should be handled on a complaint driven basis and case by case. We should not be in the business of coming up with new laws to make governments work easy at the expense of civil rights.

Here is a link to a community that is a prime example of government going too far:

“Mary Jones-Joyner, 55, of 132 Lauren Circle was babysitting her grandchildren when Sgt. Joe Stumph came to her door at 7:10 a.m. May 31, 2000, and handed her an already completed occupancy violation citation because the children were not listed on her occupancy permit.

“I told him my grandkids don’t live with me. I asked, ‘What is it you’re going to charge me with?”

When Jones-Joyner appeared in St. Clair County Circuit Court with a copy of her daughter’s lease showing the children lived with their mother, a judge dismissed the case.

“I had to take time off from work for this crazy stuff,” she said.”

Is warrantless entry by inspectors a violation of the 4th Amendment? Go here to read the case.

U.S. Supreme Court

Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523 (1967)

Camara v. Municipal Court of the City and County of San Francisco

No. 92

Argued February 15, 1967

Decided June 5, 1967

387 U.S. 523

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