More than 900 Missourians who alerted authorities to people violating the state’s stay-at-home order designed to reduce exposures to the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) now say they are in fear for their safety after details about them were leaked online.
The UK’s Daily Mail reports that the names and addresses of the ‘snitches’ were released as part of a media request under the Show Me State’s Sunshine Law, which permits such information to be released to a public agency, with some exceptions.
Officials in St. Louis County, the so-called ‘epicenter’ for coronavirus in Missouri, urged people to alert them to anyone not following prescribed social distancing guidelines. Authorities noted in the terms and conditions that information received could be shared publicly.
The Daily Mail noted further:
However some people may not have read the small print submitted tips via an online form and email from the end of March.
Many had asked for their communications to remain private.
Documents that were published online were discovered and then shared on social media platforms. One man, Jared Totsch, spread it further by posting the names and addresses on a Facebook group.
“Here ya go. The gallery of snitches, busybodies, and employees who rat out their own neighbors and employers over the Panic-demic,” he wrote, the Daily Mail reported.
The wave of complaints to authorities resulted in 29 businesses being cited by police in April. Now, people are concerned they’ll be fired as a result of reporting the companies they work for, or that people may retaliate against them.
“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,” one tipster named Patricia told KSDK-TV. “When there is something that happens next time, I’m not going to feel safe or protected enough to call the local authorities.”
The TV station reported further that Patricia has Lupus and two other people in her household also have auto-immune diseases, making them more at risk for contracting coronavirus and becoming very ill or even dying.
“We’re in a society where doing what’s right doesn’t always get rewarded,” she said. “We have to be extra careful because we don’t have the strength to fight this.
“I saw a lot of businesses that were non-essential that were open and had lines outside, parking lots filled as if the order didn’t matter to them. And that was kinda frustrating,” she continued.
Patricia added that she believes most of her personal information should have been redacted by authorities in order to offer more protection to people willing to step forward and report violations.
As of this writing, Missouri was a ‘middle-of-the-road’ state in terms of coronavirus cases, with roughly 8,754. The state has seen about 377 deaths. (Related: CDC projecting SURGE in deaths, hospitalizations by early June: 3,000 deaths and 200,000 new infections per day.)
Nearly half of all the state’s cases and deaths have occurred in St. Louis County, however.
Doug Moore, the St. Louis County executive’s director of communications, said under law they are not allowed to redact information.
“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,” Moore said, the Daily Mail reported. “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,” he continued.
Totsch said the information he shared he discovered in another online group.
“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,” he wrote. “I released the info in an attempt to discourage such behavior in the future.”