Buying Food For Your Pets Means Government Tracking?


Via Walter Olson comes the tale of the Seattle government using data purchased from third party vendors to threaten citizens.

SEATTLE – A King County letter that ended up in the mailboxes of thousands of pet owners is raising concerns over privacy.

The letter told pet owners to license their pets or face a $250 fine.

“It feels weird to me, it feels like they’re kind of snooping around in a place where they shouldn’t be,” said dog owner Chris Lee.

Turns out for the last four years, King County has been using data companies to target specific taxpayers, or in this case pet owners. That means every time customers swipe those rewards cards, they’re gathering data.

“This is kind of standard marketing practice or procedure that people use,” said Cameron Satterfield, from King County Animal Services.

The letter ended up in nearly 40,000 mailboxes.

“This is not King County going and grabbing this data, you know, big brother watching what you buy at the grocery store,” said Satterfield.

No, it’s worse than big brother watching what you buy at the grocery store.

In this case, the County admits to buying data on pet food purchases from a third party – including the names and addresses of people. They then would have to cross reference it with the database of who has a license and then send out letters demanding people get a license or else.

“This is a cost effective and we feel, less intrusive way of reminding people of the requirement and benefits of pet licensing,” said Satterfield.

Yeah, because knowing that the government is watching your legal purchases of legal products is not intrusive at all.

But there is a hitch:

However, Safeway says King County is wrong,

Safeway tells KOMO News that it does not provide data on its customers to third parties.

If that is the case, then someone is lying. Either Safeway is lying and did supply the data to a third party, or the County is lying in how they obtained the data.

Either way we know that someone buying dog and cat food had no idea that their purchase was being dimed out to the government.

Sadly, the County uses the revenue to also justify the practice:

The county admits more transparency is needed, but says the mailers work. Just last year they brought in more than $100,000 in new pet licenses.

As long as the County is making money, that’s okay in their eyes.

Years ago in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, there was an outcry as some video rental stores sold and or gave data away as to what videos certain politicians were renting and buying. That quickly expanded to records from libraries and other vendors. The politicians didn’t like that much, so they passed a law banning the information being sold.

A few years later, the federal Video Privacy Protection Act was passed and has been amended to include streaming services as well.

The point is why should the legal activities of people in one area be shielded by law, but not in another area? Why is King County, Washington effectively turning stores into police agents and monitoring legal purchases made by citizens?

Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy about your other data like your phone records, doesn’t it?

One Response to “Buying Food For Your Pets Means Government Tracking?”

  1. Hometown says:

    Just another example of government going too far. The problem is that these types of activities actually make money for the government involved and tend to grow if left unchecked. Fortunately, the people have oversight of the government through their vote and are beginning to wake up and realize that more government intrusion/oversight is not the solution. People need to take responsibility for themselves and their actions, Bigger government is not the answer, it just encourages bad behavior and teaches people that they don’t need to be responsible citizens.