Search and Seizure

No Warrants Needed

Administrative subpoenas increasingly let authorities end-run constitutional protections

|

When Golden Valley Electric Association of rural Alaska got an administrative subpoena from the Drug Enforcement Administration in December 2010 seeking electricity bill information on three customers, the company did what it usually does with subpoenas — it ignored them.

That's the association's customer privacy policy, because administrative subpoenas aren't approved by a judge.

But by law, utilities must hand over customer records — which include any billing and payment information, phone numbers and power consumption data — to the DEA without court warrants if drug agents believe the data is "relevant" to an investigation. So the utility eventually complied, after losing a legal fight earlier this month.