After Missouri issued lockdown measures due to the coronavirus pandemic, officials in St. Louis County created a website where residents could report people and businesses that ignored the stay at home orders.
In just over one week, more than 900 people filed reports on the site, which resulted in 29 businesses receiving citations for refusing to close down. The forms required people to provide their names and contact information, and put a warning that the information could become public record under the state's Sunshine Law, which allows people to file requests for public records.
When county officials received the request, they asked their lawyers if they should redact the personal information before releasing the documents.
"In this particular instance, our county counselor's office consulted with the [attorney general]'s office on releasing the list of those who had filed complaints against county businesses. We were told all the information was public and we should not redact (except for HIPAA information). Withholding information goes against what journalists push us to be – as transparent as possible," St. Louis County executive's director of communications, Doug Moore, said, according to KSDK.
The documents were requested by Jared Totsch, who then posted them on Facebook.
"Here, ya go. The gallery of snitches, busybodies, and employees who rat out their own neighbors and employers over the Panic-demic," he wrote.
He defended his actions, writing that the form warned people the information could be made public.
"If they are worried about retaliation, they should have read the fine print which stated their tips would be open public record subject to a Sunshine request, and should not have submitted tips in that manner to begin with. I released the info in an attempt to discourage such behavior in the future."
Now, those 900 people fear that they could face retaliation for ratting out their neighbors, bosses, and co-workers.
KSDK reporter PJ Randhawa spoke with a woman who is worried because she filed complaints against businesses.
"I'm not only worried about COVID, I'm worried about someone showing up at my door, showing up at my workplace or me getting fired for doing what is right," the woman, who asked only to be identified by her first name, Patricia, told the news station.
She said that knowing her name could be made public, she will no longer file complaints until she can be assured her information will remain private.
"When there is something that happens next time, I'm not going to feel safe or protected enough to call the local authorities."
Photo: Getty Images