Electric Co. Can’t Shield Records From Pot Probe

     (CN) – An electric company in Alaska lost its bid to shield customer records from the government, which used them to investigate suspected marijuana growers.
     A 9th Circuit panel in Fairbanks ruled Tuesday that the Drug Enforcement Administration’s subpoena “sought information relevant to a drug investigation, was procedurally proper, and was not overly broad.”
     The ruling reinforces a federal judge’s order forcing Golden Valley Electric Association to comply with the DEA’s subpoena for the power-consumption records of three customers in Fairbanks.
     The DEA suspected the residents at those addresses of growing and selling marijuana.
     After reluctantly complying with the order, Golden Valley appealed, claiming the records were irrelevant to the DEA’s investigation.     
     It also argued that the attorney general had issued the subpoena without verifying that the three residences were being investigated for drugs, and that the government should have obtained a search warrant or a grand jury subpoena.
     Judge William Fletcher said the records were relevant, because high electricity consumption can indicate marijuana manufacturing.
     Golden Valley admitted that growers typically use more power, but argued that fluctuating energy consumption is “not unusual” in Alaska and thus “not obviously relevant” to a drug crime.
     Fletcher disagreed.
     “We easily conclude that power consumption records at the three customer residences satisfy the relevance standard for the issuance of an administrative subpoena in a drug investigation,” he wrote for the three-judge panel.
     The court dismissed the company’s remaining claims, including its bid to protect customer privacy.
     “Golden Valley has not shown the existence of any agreement with its customers to keep their usage and payment records confidential,” Fletcher wrote.

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