Monday, May 06, 2013

Texas, Public Information, Telemarketers and Singing Butt Monkeys

Dear State of Texas,

You have disappointed and irritated me today. Since I am a native daughter, disappointment and irritation at my beloved state are rare and unpleasant feelings for me which could result in a lot of local stink eye. These stink eye inducing feelings are compounded by the fact that I'm not exactly sure where to direct my irritation because you were unable to tell me. Which irritates me even more.

Last week I applied for a sales tax permit so that I can peddle my wares at local craft shows. I haven't even received my official permit in the mail yet but I'm already receiving an unusually large amount of annoying automated telemarketing calls congratulating me on my new business and offering me everything from free credit card machines to discounted computers. By "unusually large amount" I mean 9 calls within the past 2 hours. I can ignore 3 calls in 2 hours but 9???

Confused as to how this could happen in such a short time, I decided to give you a call. I wasn't exactly sure who to call so I called a hotline number for questions regarding the Public Information Act. You don't actually get to speak to a person when you call that hotline, you only get to leave a message. Which doesn't really make it a hotline now does it? It's more of a luke warm line bordering on a cold line. 

I left a message and shortly thereafter a very grouchy man with the Attorney General's office returned my call. I started explaining my concern to him which I think he only half listened to since he was more focused on telling me that he didn't know anything and I needed to call the Comptroller's Office instead. Then he went on and on about how the Comptroller doesn't make their number prominent enough on the website which he speculated was so they could avoid receiving annoying calls like mine. He didn't actually say my call was "annoying" but he didn't have to. His thoughts were clear. I'm not sure who this man was since all he said was that he's "with the Attorney General's office" but I don't think Greg Abbott would be happy knowing that he's being represented in such a way. When I hung up I was left feeling like the whole Attorney General's office is just one big jerk.

I called the Comptroller's office and was redirected to the Open Records office. A nice lady in that office explained to me that my permit application is considered public information and is posted on this website which is updated weekly. She did confirm that my phone number was not a part of that website and for those companies to get my number they would have to make a written request. 

After talking to her I went to the website and saw that my application was posted today, May 6, 2013. I also saw that my phone number was not included in that information. Open Records Gal said companies had to request my phone number in writing. If that's the case, how were they able to do that and get my number in 1 day? I called her back to find out.

Open Records Gal was away from her desk so I started explaining my concerns to the gal who answered the phone. She said it was her understanding that there was a system in place where as soon as the sales tax permit information is released, it is automatically sent to certain companies, phone numbers and all, without them having to make a formal written request.

Okay, seriously?! For some reason they get to bypass the rules?? The Attorney General's website says that all requests must be submitted in writing. Section 552.223 of The Public Information Act clearly states that all requests for information will be treated uniformly regardless of who makes the request. That means there should be no exceptions, everyone makes the request in writing and pays whatever fees are associated with that request. If these telemarketing companies are abiding by government code, they are seeing my information, requesting it in writing from the Attorney General's office, receiving the requested information and calling me about it all in the same day.

And monkeys might fly outta my butt.

When I expressed my concern about this to the gal on the phone, she asked if I had been directed to the Privacy Officer who handles these situations. When I said no, she gave me the phone number which I immediately called.

The Privacy Officer gal was very nice and was, of course, not much help at all. She reconfirmed that all the information on my sales tax permit application was available as public information and was posted on a website. I told her that I have been to the website and I saw the information that was posted there and there were no phone numbers. When I told her what the last gal said about some companies automatically receiving public information as soon as it is available she said she thought that might be for marketing purposes, to see how much revenue is generated compared to the number of permits issued blah blah blah. The only "marketing" that applies to are the companies who are calling me, trying to get me to buy their junk.

When I asked the Privacy Officer who would be responsible for releasing this information or could confirm if this was actually happening, she had no idea. She's said she's just an attorney who handles privacy issues.

And monkeys wearing top hats singing "Puttin on The Ritz" might fly outta my butt. Sideways. 

Privacy Officer said I could remove my phone number from the public record. A day late and a dollar short. She took my email address and said that someone would email me with information on how exactly to go about that. I just received the email which included contact information for the people in File Maintenance who can remove my number.

Of course by now this whole thing has graduated from a bunch of annoying phone calls to a State-sanctioned violation of government code. The Chief Privacy Officer told me that my information was possibly being used for marketing purposes but the email I received from her office said this in the very first paragraph:
Our office does not sell or market taxpayer information to anyone. Under the Texas Public Information Act, however, a sales tax permit holder’s business name, address and telephone number provided on their permit application must be released to anyone who requests the information.
Liar, liar pants on fire. Or maybe not. If there is a reasonable explanation I would really like to hear it, Texas. Tell me you're not doing what I think you're doing. Call me. I'm sure you can find my number.

4 comments:

artoutwithyourheartout.com said...

Well Shannon it sounds about par for the course these days. At least you got to talk to actual humans and not lost somewhere in a phone labyrinth! Have you put yourself on a Do Not Call List? I know there are national ones and state ones but I can't remember how I got on them.

As a complete aside--years ago when I first got on the "interweb" (haha!) I went into a sports online chat for about 5 minutes and within an hour I received about 20 emails from XXX websites. Coincidence? I think not. Wait--is that a monkey coming out of my butt?

Happy Mothers Day!

Tessanna said...

Hiya Shannon,

Holly here, from youtube. ...just love reading your blog and watching your vids. Thanks for the laughs!! You are hilarious.
I live in Texas, too, and have had run-ins with DPS (long story). Something ain't right with the way they're running our beloved State! Sorry you had to go through this. Let us know how this turns out. It's just SOOOO wrong if they're giving out info, and they know it is.
Hope your butt feels better soon!! :P

ChristineMM said...

Wow!

You know those Sunday newspaper flyer companies who give you address labels for free only shipping fees?

I did that with my crafting name for swaps and immediately got a ton of junk mail w that name on it. The reason it is free is they sell your name to marketing companies.

Also did a change of address for MIL to our house as she was getting scammed and found out the USPS also sells your data as soon as you move. They had treated her address change like a move, and sold it. Proved by the around ot "new resident" type mail that we got in her name.

So the USPS actually does sell your snail mail address.

Terri Daly said...

Hey Shannon,

Just found your blog and you tube videos. You're so funny! Love this post!