Employees’ snooping through customer data all too
Mayoral candidate lost race after leak
• By Ryan J. Foley - ASSOCIATED PRESS
During a tight race for mayor of Milwaukee, then-acting Mayor Marvin Pratt
lost his election bid after an employee of WE Energies leaked that Pratt was
often behind in paying his heating bills.
MADISON, Wis. — A landlord snooped on tenants to find out information about
their finances. A woman repeatedly accessed her ex-boyfriend’s account after a
difficult breakup. Another obtained her child’s father’s address so she could serve him
All worked for Wisconsin’s largest utility, where employees routinely accessed
confidential information about acquaintances, local celebrities and others from its
massive customer database.
Documents obtained by the Associated Press in an employment case involving
Milwaukee-based WE Energies shine a light on a common practice in the utilities,
telecommunications and accounting industries, privacy experts say.
Vast computer databases give curious employees the ability to look up sensitive
information on people with the click of a mouse. The WE Energies database includes
credit and banking information, payment histories, Social Security numbers,
addresses, phone numbers, and energy usage. In some cases, it even includes income
and medical information.
Experts say some companies do little to stop such abuses even though they could lead
to identity theft, stalking and other privacy invasions. And companies that uncover
violations can keep them quiet because in many cases it is not illegal to snoop, only to
use the data for crimes.
Jay Foley, executive director of the Identity Theft Resources Center, said state
regulators and lawmakers must step in if companies are not guarding their customer
“Something needs to be done at the state level to make sure this is illegal,” he said.
WE Energies says it has taken numerous steps to stop the problem but even so