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You’re in the database now

Be careful when ordering that pizza – it might help The Man hunt you down.

It’s dinnertime, and you’re hungry and tired, so you pick up the phone and order your favorite pizza. But you might have just landed yourself a lot more than pepperoni and cheese.

If you owe fines or fees to the courts, that phone call may have provided the link the state needed to track you down and make you pay.

That’s one of the strategies of firms such as a company being hired by the Missouri Office of State Courts Administrator to handle its fine and debt collections.

David Coplen, the state office’s budget director, said he discovered that pizza delivery lists are one of the best sources such companies use to locate people.

“There are literally millions of dollars of uncollected fines, fees and court costs out there,” Coplen said.

How much?

A sampling in January of just three of Missouri’s 114 counties found about $2 million owed to courts by people whose Social Security numbers were known, Coplen said. That finding suggests courts statewide could reap significant revenue once Dallas-based ACS Inc. gets to work this month pursuing people using phone numbers and addresses.

Databases compiled by private companies and government agencies are a key tool for firms such as ACS, Coplen said, and “one of the databases they find to be most helpful are pizza delivery databases.”

“When you call to order a pizza, you usually give them your correct name, your correct address and your correct phone number,” he said.

Naturally, no pizza chain would confirm that they share info with firms like this. I haven’t ordered from Domino’s since I was in grad school; this is just one more reason to feel good about that.

I must say that I don’t see this as full-scale creeping-Big-Brother evil. For one thing, it strikes me as being peanuts compared to what credit reporting companies already know and tell about all of us. For another, I’m a big believer in cities collecting the fines and fees they’re due. It’s not going to be enough to balance any budgets, but there’s no good reason to leave that kind of money on the table, especially now. I have my qualms about turning this sort of thing over to a private contractor, but not enough of them in this case to work myself into a fevered rant. I do think there ought to be some strict rules which say what these guys can and can’t do, and what kind of information is and is not available to them, and for the sake of uniformity those rules ought to be federal in nature. I fully expect it’ll take a couple of made-for-Dateline type outrages before anyone takes up that cause, however.

So anyway, file this under FYI, and use it as an impetus to try out a local non-chain pizza place next time. The food will be better anyway. Via Gary Farber. Oh, and Gary, the phrase you’re looking for is No Anchovies, Please.

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  1. William Hughes says:

    I have to ask this question:

    If the marhsals don’t come to your house within 30 minutes, is the pizza free?

    Sorry, had to ask. I’m just glad I live in New York, where real pizza rules.

  2. Tim says:

    I pretty much agree. I have no problem with legitimate taxing entities using everything within their legitimate, Constitutional powers in order to collect. I don’t believe bad economies or budget shortfalls are a sufficient emergency to warrant suspending due process and privacy rights of those not under suspicion, and I don’t think it’s cool to recruit private entities to do your dirty work.

    While this may not in and of itself be “Creeping-Big-Brother evil,” it’s pretty clear that we’ve been on that slippery slope for quite a while now, and this is just the latest slippage toward that ultimate surveillance state.

  3. Gary Farber says:

    The right to order pizza at your home, with a choice of 40 toppings, is the right to be free!


  4. William Hughes says:

    I don’t have a problem with cities trying to collect their fines / fees / other monies due, but isn’t this a cheesy way of doing it? 😉

  5. kevin whited says:

    I’m very disappointed. Surely Dems could have dug a little harder on this, and found some way to tie back the current policy to John Ashcroft’s days as attorney general and then governor in Missouri. Come on guys, you’re letting me down! 🙂