The City of Austin finally turned over their records on the Austin PD/Austin Energy Warrantless surveillance program. To recap, Austin PD has a deal with Austin that gives Austin PD access to customer electricity usage information. I filed an open records request for information on the program. Austin PD fought the request by asking for an AG opinion. The AG ruled for disclosure. Today I received the materials from the City of Austin Law Department.
What I Received
I received a list of email addresses for city employees (I’m not really sure why), the Austin Police’s customer service agreement with Austin Energy (to provide electricity, not customer info), and a copy of the Austin PD Organized Crime Division Operation Procedure Manual.
The Procedure Manual is eight pages long. The city redacted all but two sentences. The still sent me 8 pages though, with a nice big “redacted- not responsive” stamped on each page to highlight their power of non disclosure.
The Two Sentences
Here is what the City of Austin fought to keep secret. Here is the information that would “endanger officer safety” if released. Drum roll……………………..
“Assigned Personnel will use investigative techniques to include…..
F. Check utilities at reported location.”
Tax Dollars At Work?
That’s it. Austin PD, though the City of Austin Law Department, wasted tax dollars to fight the release of those two sentences. The City told the Attorney General that releasing those two sentences would “endanger officer safety.” Is anyone else insulted by such fraudulent arguments? The City of Austin’s Law Department is making a mockery of open records and law enforcement such sorry arguments.
No Program Exists
Sometimes what you don’t find in an open records request is as important as what you do find. In this Austin PD has no program for this warrantless surveillance. Their is no oversight, no reporting of searches, no suspicion needed to search, nothing. Austin PD has unfettered access to your personal information with no policy as to how, when, or why the information can be accessed.
If an officer is getting divorced and wants to check his spouse’s utility bill then he can. Want to see if you neighbor’s house is energy efficient? Call Austin PD. Law enforcement discretion rarely goes without abuse, even seemingly benign powers like utility bill searches.