That might be an overly dramatic headline to this post, but it could be a question that never gets answered if a bill to close off the birth dates of public employees becomes law.
Senate Bill 1753, by Sen. Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, passed out of the Senate yesterday with no debate by a vote of 44-0. It now moves to the House.
Our Capitol reporter Julie Bisbee has today’s coverage here.
In the face of misinformation over identity theft, SB 1753 has picked up support from several state employee associations, including the Oklahoma Public Employees Association and some law enforcement unions.
OPEA sent out an “action alert” to its members yesterday playing on the fears over identity theft:
OPEA Action Alert – Keep Your Private Information
Private Protect State Employee Private Information More Info
Contact your Senator today!
Contact your state Senator today to ask them to support SB 1753 by Leftwich , which requires state agencies to keep your birth date confidential. This bill is on the Senate agenda and could come up any time.
Currently, public jurisdictions must disclose private information about employees including, name, compensation, and date of birth. SB 1753 excludes employees’ birth date from the information that agencies are mandated to provide to the public.
State employees’ duties often bring them in contact with the public in safety, protection of the most vulnerable and regulatory functions. Child welfare workers, corrections and probation officers, or benefit workers can be stalked by criminals or disgruntled members of the public with whom they have come in contact through the performance of their job duties. Employees’ birthdates can also be used by identity thieves to access bank accounts and credit of public workers.
Help OPEA protect state employee identities! Contact your Senator today!
I’m sure the leaders at OPEA mean well, but I don’t see how knowing a date of birth would make it any easier for stalkers to find the employees they mention. Unfortunately, that argument was picked up by the House author of the bill, Rep. Randy Terrill:
Terrill, R-Moore, said he’s concerned people could use birth date information to retaliate against correctional officers, state troopers, drug agents and others involved in public safety.
“I believe very strongly in the public’s right to know, but I also believe very strongly that just because you become a public employee doesn’t mean that your entire life history is a matter of open record,” Terrill said.
Current law does not allow disclosure of public employees’ social security numbers, home telephone numbers or addresses:
Public bodies shall keep confidential the home address, telephone numbers and social security numbers of any person employed or formerly employed by the public body.
Property records, and by extension, most home addresses, are already publicly available. You can inspect them at every courthouse in the state, and many counties now allow searching online. (Oklahoma County is here.) I still have heavy phone books delivered to my house with thousands of addresses, so I don’t consider that particularly sensitive information. But I do understand the concern expressed by some law enforcement employees.
Of course, the media doesn’t always make the best case for why public records should remain open and accessible. But with this issue, we’re not just crying wolf.
My colleague John Estus and I ran a simple computer database analysis of the state payroll and the registered sex offender list. We found at least 778 state employees who shared a first and last name with those on the sex offender list. From the box that ran with Bisbee’s story:
Using Birth Dates
An example: Are employees sex offenders?
A comparison of January’s state payroll data to the state sex offender registry reveals 778 state employees share first and last names with registered sex offenders. Without dates of birth, it is impossible to determine whether those workers may be sex offenders. State employees who share the names of sex offenders include:
- Child care workers
- A state Supreme Court justice
- Doctors, nurses and other health care workers
- State troopers
- Prison workers
- Juvenile affairs workers
- Law enforcement investigators
- Drug enforcement agents
- University workers
Of course, we’d never publish a story that matched just the names of state employees and sex offenders. To do so would be irresponsible. But without another identifier, like date of birth*, it would be impossible to narrow down the results or even do that type of story in the first place.
And it’s not just checking the criminal history of public employees, something that is presumably done in background checks when they are first hired. Bankruptcies, liens, judgments and other civil matters are also important.
In fact, when our City Hall reporter Bryan Dean requested the date of birth of a city of Oklahoma City employee who is under investigation in the misuse of public funds, the city denied his request. When it finally relented, Dean found out the employee had filed for bankruptcy, something that could have been useful to know for both the city and the public.
If SB 1753 succeeds, then public employees would be afforded more privacy rights than registered voters in the state. As I’ve mentioned before, about 2 million names, addresses and dates of birth of registered voters are already available for a fee from the state Election Board:
The Oklahoma State Election Board sells lists of registered voters to anyone willing to pay its fees. Among the information on there? Dates of birth.
Those voter registration lists are used by political campaigns, academics and commercial database providers such as Lexis-Nexis and Accurint. We buy the data annually for internal fact-checking purposes.
Fran Roche, assistant secretary at the Election Board, said the state brings in between $16,000 to $18,000 a year selling those voter registration lists. The board generally gets about 250 orders for voter registration lists each year.
This is just a guess, but I’m sure most lawmakers–including Leftwich and Terrill–have used that voter information data in their campaigns to target voters by both precinct and age.
P.S. For the record, my date of birth is 6/27/75.
Written by Paul Monies