Why play solitaire when you work for the utility company and can look up the mayor’s phone number? An Associated Press investigation reveals that casual snooping is widespread among employees who have access to large customer databases. According to one utility executive, it would be “difficult, if not impossible” to ferret out employees who use sensitive data for identity theft.
“People were looking at an incredible number of accounts,” Joan Shafer, WE Energies’ vice president of customer service, said during a sworn deposition last year. “Politicians, community leaders, board members, officers, family, friends. All over the place.”
Her testimony came in a legal case involving an employee who was fired in 2006 for repeatedly accessing information about her ex-boyfriend and another friend. An arbitrator in November upheld the woman’s firing. The AP reviewed testimony and documents made public as part of the case.
The misuse came to light in 2004 when an employee helped leak information to the media during a heated race for Milwaukee mayor that a candidate, acting Mayor Marvin Pratt, was often behind in paying his heating bills. Pratt lost to the current mayor, Tom Barrett.
Pratt said he’s convinced the disclosure cost him votes and unfairly damaged his reputation. Pratt said he recently met with top company executives and was satisfied it has stopped the problem as much as possible. He said he has dropped earlier plans to explore a lawsuit.
Private sector employees aren’t the only slackers to leaf through personal files. The IRS disciplined 219 wayward employees last year for snooping through our coveted 1040s. Companies don’t like discussing their security measures, but WE Energies went on the record to assure everyone that they remind employees about privacy protection at least once every single year. We feel so much safer now.