Chapter 22 Frequently Asked Questions
Are utility records public records? Can I get copies of other customers’ utility bills?
Section 388.9A may restrict the release of some utility records or portions of records that are public records under Iowa Code Chapter 22.
Iowa Code Section 22.2 states:
Every person shall have the right to examine and copy a public record and to publish or otherwise disseminate a public record of the information contained in a public record….
City and other utility records have historically been considered public records, and citizens had the right to request and receive copies of these records, unless a confidentially exemption under Section 22.7 applied. In 2012, the Iowa Legislature added section 388.9A to the Code, which reads:
Notwithstanding section 22.2, subsection 1, public records of a city utility or combined utility system, or a city enterprise or combined city enterprise as defined in section 384.80, which shall not be examined or copied as of right, include private customer information. Except as required pursuant to chapter 476, “private customer information” includes information identifying a specific customer and any record of a customer account, including internet-based customer account information.
This legislation’s origins can be traced back to House File 2395 and House Study Bill 651. While Iowa has no official statement of legislative history, explanations are provided as a part of each of these bills. HSB 651 was a much more extensive bill which evolved through the committee process to become HF 2395. The actual enactment was Senate File 2058, an individually sponsored bill, which was amended on the floor of the Senate to adopt the language of HF 2395. The different explanations filed with the three different bills contain a common thread: the intent to grant a discretionary power to utilities for the handling of customer records in order to protect the privacy of those customers.
The operative language of this statute can be reduced to this simple statement which reflects the legislative intent: “. . . public records of a city utility . . . which shall not be examined or copied as of right, include private customer information.” The legislation also provides a definition of private customer information as set forth above.
Anecdotal information provided indicates concerns had been expressed by the covered entities about new technological data collection methods for utility billing which, if the data were made publicly available, would allow derivation of detailed information about account holders. Concerns were also expressed about compliance with consumer credit and debt collection statutes, state and federal.
Section 388.9A does not provide that any records within its purview are no longer public records. The records affected by section 388.9A are limited to private customer records under the definition stated within the section. These records are still public records subject to chapter 22. Section 388.9A does, however, hold in abeyance application of the provisions of chapter 22 to private customer records which would otherwise be subject to inspection and copying. As to those records, the section 22.2 right to examine and copy is suspended at the discretion of the utility. In other words, section 388.9A is a grant of discretion to utilities concerning the release of specified information that otherwise would be subject to release as a matter of right under section 22.2.
Note, that the use of the term “utility” is limited to those entities specified in section 388.9A.