Court Grants Feds Warrantless Access to Utility Records

By » Wed, August 8 2012
3531668253 8e298bcfd0 450x450 Court Grants Feds Warrantless Access to Utility Records

Warrant? Shut up and give me your damned electric bill. (img by Electronic Frontier Foundation)

tl;dr The Man can get your utility records, plus bank and CC info, sans warrant,


Utilities must hand over customer records — which include credit card numbers, phone numbers and power consumption data — to the authorities without court warrants if drug agents believe they are “relevant” to an investigation, a federal appeals court says.

The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 allows the authorities to make demands for that data in the form of an administrative subpoena, with no judicial oversight. In this instance, the Drug Enforcement Administration sought the records of three Golden Valley Electric Association customers in Fairbanks, Alaska suspected of growing marijuana indoors.

“The information subpoenaed does not need to be relevant to a crime; in fact, it may be used to dissipate any suspicion of a crime,” Judge William Fletcher wrote for the unanimous, three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “The information subpoenaed need only be relevant to an agency investigation. Energy consumption records can be relevant to an investigation into a suspected drug crime.”

The decision appears to be an end-run around the Supreme Court’s 2001 ruling requiring the authorities to obtain search warrants to employ thermal-imaging devices to detect indoor marijuana-growing operations. The court ruled that the imaging devices, used outside a house, carry the potential to “shrink the realm of guaranteed privacy.”

In the case decided Tuesday, the utility, with 44,000 meters, objected to the subpoenas. Among other things, it alleged that a probable-cause warrant from a judge was required, and that its privacy policy protected the confidentiality of its customers’ records. It also said the government went too far when requesting credit card numbers and other banking information associated with customer accounts.

Read the rest at Wired Threat Level

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