The proposed ward map for the City of Oklahoma City was released on Tuesday.
In the map below (click for a larger version), the current wards are in color, while the proposed boundaries are outlined in the brownish-black dotted lines.
A lot of the population growth has come in the far northwest part of the city, so you can see Ward 8 (Patrick Ryan in bright green) has been chopped up quite considerably. A chunk of Ward 8 constituents will move into Ward 1 (Gary Marrs; light blue) under the proposed plan. On the eastern side of Ward 8, some residents will move into Ward 7 (Skip Kelly; yellow). Ed Shadid in Ward 2 (pink) will gain some residents in the southwestern part of his ward from Ward 1. He will lose some residents at the northeast end of the ward to Kelly.
Meanwhile, Meg Salyer in Ward 6 (dark blue) and Pete White in Ward 4 (purple) will swap some people on the southern parts of the existing Ward 6. Larry McAtee in Ward 3 (dark green) will lose some residents along Reno Avenue to Gary Marrs in Ward 1.
David Greenwell in Ward 5 (dark red) on the far south side will lose some residents to White and McAtee on the top left and top right of his existing ward.
The city also set a public meeting for discussion on the proposed changes to ward boundaries, which happens once a decade to allocate population fairly across the city.
The public meeting will be at 6 p.m., Aug. 9, in the City Council Chamber on the 3rd Floor of City Hall, 200 N. Walker.
In the meantime, you can leave your comments on the proposed map below.
I had a great time on Saturday down at the Skirvin Hotel for the first CityCampOKC, part of the second day of the Gov 2.0a conference. CityCamps have been in several other cities for the last couple of years, but this was a first for Oklahoma.
This was my first “unconference,” a loosely themed and loosely organized day of like-minded people coming together. Basically, the agenda is set by the participants, with help from the unconference facilitators.
After introductions, we wrote some discussion topics on yellow stickies that our facilitator, Oklahoma City’s Zach Nash, put on the wall. Since we all were interested in the intersection of government and technology, some of the topics weren’t a surprise.
The first session split into two groups, one for open data in local government and the other for website design.
I was more interested in the open data side, since much of my job involves requesting and analyzing publicly available government data. We grabbed our list of topics from the wall and got to the discussion.
We had a good mix of city officials, developers, entrepreneurs and activists at the open data table.
I was a little leery that we would be able to cover the eight or so topics on our list. But after reading each sticky note, the conversation just started flowing.
Of course, open data is not just data provided by government agencies. Increasingly, engaged citizens are creating their own data sets that can be used by developers and hackers for “mashing up” on maps, smartphone apps and data visualization.
A number of state and city government have launched open data websites in the last few years, including Oklahoma earlier this year. But the challenge is showing what can be done with that data.
Gov2.0Radio’s Adriel Hampton talked about the datasf.org website and how the city of San Francisco has compiled some of the apps using open data into a showcase page. Other cities or states are sponsoring competitions with small cash prizes for the best app using open data.
The challenges posed by both government-provided data and citizen-generated data are similar. The data needs to be accurate and timely. If it’s provided by citizens, there needs to be a process for collection and peer verification. If it’s provided by government, there needs to be a easy way for users to report errors in the data.
Still, at the end of the day, the data needs to be useful to the public. Among some of the other ideas discussed:
- Breaking down the bureaucracy inside city government so departments can freely share data without turf wars.
- Harnessing existing platforms like See Click Fix or Open 311 to get the public to report problems with city services.
- Providing APIs (Application Program Interfaces) so city governments can provide feeds of city data to the public without much extra manpower or effort.
- Explaining the value of open data to city decision makers. Some suggestions included informal “citizen advisory panels” for leaders to ask for additional explanation from local data users and developers.
On the other side of the room, participants discussed how to best redesign or begin websites for city government. Among the models mentioned was the recent collaborative redesign of the federal government’s Federal Communications Commission website. Other topics included:
- Getting elected officials involved in the redesign process.
- The website as the new face of city government and how it’s just as important as the customer interactions with trash pickup or pothole repairs.
- Is the city website ever really “done” and the importance of continual improvement.
- Creating a sustainable fee structure for online services that can help support website development.
- Keeping track of city website redesigns at GovLoop.
- Using open source tools like Drupal to power new local government website services. (Also see FirmStep.)
- Translating technical language into what people’s needs are in their communities. Ideally, all this technology should just make it easier, not harder, for citizens to engage with their local governments.
After lunch, Adriel Hampton gave a short presentation about his new company, Nation Builder, and how to take advantage of online tools to organize community members. (More on that later.)
The last session of the day was a discussion on how local governments can reach out to underserved communities. Among the key points:
- Don’t forget about local libraries being key points for outreach.
- Community building using Neighborgoods.org, an online swap-shop for neighbors and friends.
- Don’t force people to use a smartphone for city services. Not everybody can afford one. People will use the easiest thing available to them.
- If you have a Twitter account, don’t forget to embed its feed on your website.
- Using SMS text alerts or QR codes for additional information about city services.
- Reaching out to non-English speakers in the community.
- Providing closed-captioning for online video.
- Using savings from paperless/online billing for targeted outreach in other areas of city government.
Today is the deadline to register for the Gov 2.0a conference here in Oklahoma City.
This is the second year of the conference on open government, technology and citizen engagement. I attended last year and was very impressed with the lineup. This year’s lineup looks equally (if not more) impressive.
The conference starts Friday morning at the Skirvin Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City. It continues throughout the day and concludes with several keynote speakers Friday evening, including Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin; Tom Walker of i2E; and Hillary Hartley of NIC Inc.
On Saturday, the conference splits in two. One part, Mash-It-Up Camp, is geared more toward a tech audience. The other event, City Camp, will cater more to a government and community audience. My job straddles both worlds, but I plan to be at City Camp on Saturday.
For more on the Gov 2.0a conference, just check out their website. The conference is organized by a great group of local folks: Sid Burgess, Derrick Parkhurst, David Glover, Lindsey Coster and John R. Wood.
If you’re interested in government transparency, come out to the annual FOI Oklahoma Inc.** Sunshine Conference on Saturday, March 12. The event is from 8:30 a.m to 3:30 p.m. at The Oklahoman, 9000 Broadway Extension, Oklahoma City.
The conference will kick off Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote openness in government and empower the right to know among the people.
This year’s theme is “Putting Muscle Behind Oklahoma’s FOI Laws.” Registration is $35, but there are special rates for students and current FOI Oklahoma members. Check out a PDF of the schedule.
[Update: There also will be a silent auction, the proceeds of which will benefit FOI Oklahoma's Sunshine Fund. The organization used its first grant from that fund to help defray the costs of an Open Meetings Act lawsuit filed by citizen activists. Among the items up for bidding are an evening in an Oklahoma RedHawks suite at the Bricktown Ballpark; a one-night stay at the Colcord Hotel, among others. More items here. ]
The following is from Joey Senat, associate professor of journalism at Oklahoma State University and a former president of FOI Oklahoma:
The conference’s keynote speaker is a national Open Government Hall of Fame inductee, who will offer advice on creating a state agency that Oklahomans can go to for help when officials wrongly withhold records or restrict access to open meetings.
As executive director for the nation’s first-such state agency, Robert J. “Bob” Freeman is responsible for providing advice about New York’s open records and meeting laws to the public, state and local governments, and the media.
Freeman’s keynote address also will offer advice on making Oklahoma’s open government laws work for the public.
Other sessions include:
- A state representative [Rep. Jason Murphey] discussing bills requiring the Legislature to comply with Oklahoma’s Open Meeting and Records laws;
- A panel of local heroes who have gone to court seeking information under the Open Records Act and challenging the conduct of public bodies under the Open Meeting Act; and
- Experts explaining how to use the Open Records Act to request records and to spot the most-likely violations of the Open Meeting Act.
The luncheon will include a tribute to former Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Marian Opala. Recipients of FOI Oklahoma Inc.’s annual Marian Opala First Amendment Award and three freedom-of-information awards will be recognized, as will the winners of its first FOI essay contest for college students.
Please support open government in Oklahoma by attending this conference. More people equal a bigger message to those in government who ignore our state’s Open Records and Open Meeting laws.
**Full disclosure: I am a board member of FOI Oklahoma Inc. I’ll also be speaking on one of the panels.
This slipped by me earlier this week, but the Attorney General’s Office and Office of State Finance have given the green light for state and local governments to use Facebook.
On Tuesday, new Attorney General Scott Pruitt and state Chief Information Officer Alex Pettit announced they had reached an agreement to modify Facebook’s terms of service in Oklahoma for state and local governments.
“Social computing technologies, like Facebook, are increasingly important to the way government interacts and conducts business with the public.” Pettit said in a news release. “The state needs to continue to break down the barriers to public sector implementation, but in a way that meets the laws of Oklahoma and does not jeopardize the state’s IT resources.”
Pruitt and Pettit said the new Facebook terms of service are similar to ones negotiated by the federal government. Oklahoma was part of a working group on social media issues convened by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers and the National Association of Attorneys General.
“Facebook provides a tremendous venue for state agencies and their local counterparts to keep their constituents apprised of the great work they do,” Pruitt said. “We, and our partner agencies, look forward to using the site to stay in contact with the public.”
The agreement will apply immediately to government agencies and departments that already had a Facebook page.
Here’s the specifics of the agreement:
* Strike the indemnity clause except to the extent indemnity is allowed by a state’s constitution or law;
* Strike language requiring that legal disputes be venued in California courts and adjudicated under California law;
* Require that a public agency include language directing consumers to its official Web site prominently on any Facebook page; and,
* Encourage amicable resolution between public entities and Facebook over any disputes.
We just got word tonight that Rep. Randy Terrill has filed new legislation that will close off the dates of birth of all public employees in Oklahoma. This is despite the fact that the state makes millions selling the same information for registered voters, licensed drivers and college students.
Sensing that a standalone bill like the changes to HB 3382 made last week was unlikely to survive scrutiny by his fellow House members, it now looks like Terrill, R-Moore, has put the language into a so-called omnibus bill dealing with the state Department of Corrections.
The lengthy conference committee substitute for HB 3379 was filed this evening with the following provision:
D. Public bodies The Department of Corrections shall keep confidential the home address, telephone numbers and, social security numbers, employee identification number and birth date of any person employed or formerly employed by the public body.
The next section then takes the exemption for DOC employees and makes it applicable to all public bodies. It also renders moot a pending Open Records Act request by The Oklahoman for the birth dates of public employees by making the bill retroactive:
E. The provisions of subsection D of this section shall be applicable to all public bodies and to any request made pursuant to the provisions of the Oklahoma Open Records Act prior to the effective date of this act for which a public body has not provided a response as of the effective date of this act.
It’s my understanding that new legislation has to sit on the House calendar for at least 24 hours before being considered by the House. That means this bill could come up for a vote as early as Wednesday evening.
For previous blog coverage of this issue, check out the following posts:
- Oklahoma brings in millions by selling personal data
- Special mailing list deal for Oklahoma Public Employees Association
- “Privacy pirates” and the politics of fear
- DOB bill compromise attacks spirit of Open Records Act
- Public employee date of birth bill resurrected
Note: This is a slightly longer version of today’s story:
BY PAUL MONIES
The natural rivalry between the Oklahoma’s two largest cities has been overtaken by the way both have grown in the last decade.
Oklahoma City now has more in common with Tampa, Fla., and Boise, Idaho, than it does with Tulsa. Meanwhile, Tulsa is more like Wichita, Kan., and Cleveland, Ohio, than Oklahoma City.
That’s according to a new study of Census data in the nation’s top 100 metropolitan areas — which include two-thirds of the U.S. population — by the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based public policy organization. The metros range in size from 500,000 people in Modesto, Calif., to 19 million in New York City. The study clusters metro areas into seven groups that share characteristics.
As a “mid-sized magnet” metro, Oklahoma City has had higher growth, lower diversity and lower educational levels than most other metropolitan areas. Tulsa, grouped into the “industrial core” type, has lower growth, lower diversity and lower educational attainment than the national average among metros.
“The new metro map of the United States forces us to think outside the conventional regional boxes that have informed America’s narrative for generations,” said Bruce Katz, vice president and director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program.
The Brookings analysis highlights the changing nature of America’s metro areas, central cities and their suburbs from 2000 to 2008. In Oklahoma, Tulsa and Oklahoma City are at the front lines of emerging immigration, income and aging trends. Among the highlights:
- Migration: Oklahoma City ranked seventh and Tulsa ranked 15th in the percentage of residents who moved in the last year.
- Income: Tulsa suburbs ranked second in median household income growth from 2000 to 2008. Oklahoma City suburbs ranked 14th in the same category. However, median household income in the two metro areas overall slipped because of declines in the central cities.
- Immigration: Oklahoma City suburbs ranked 10th in the proportion of foreign-born immigrants who have arrived since 2000. Tulsa suburbs ranked 94th in that category. Because it uses census data, the Brookings analysis does not make the distinction between legal and illegal immigrants.
- Education: Roughly one-fourth of residents in Oklahoma City and Tulsa metro areas have bachelor’s degrees, putting the Oklahoma City metro at No. 69 and the Tulsa metro at No. 79.
- Transportation: The Oklahoma City metro area ranks eighth nationally in the percentage of commuters who drive to work alone. The Tulsa metro area came in at No. 30.
Neither Oklahoma City nor Tulsa was affected by the rapid rise and fall of home values affecting many other metro areas that was a factor in the current recession. Although both metros have been hit by manufacturing and service job losses and rising unemployment, their relatively stable housing markets and energy companies have buffeted those declines.
“As the economy began to deteriorate in other parts of the country, Oklahoma City was prospering,” said Eric Long, manager of economic research for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. “Low unemployment, coupled with stability in our housing market, were big factors.”
Long said inquiries about relocating to Oklahoma City from both companies and individuals have picked up after dropping off in the last year or so. Many come from people looking for a fresh start.
“They are unhappy with employment and cost of living issues in their home states and have heard about Oklahoma City,” Long said. “They may not have relatives or know anyone here, but are still willing to take a chance on our city.”
Retaining college grads
Officials from Tulsa and Oklahoma City chambers mentioned the importance of attracting and retaining college graduates and entrepreneurs, who in the past might have sought jobs or started companies in larger regional metros such as Dallas or Denver.
Susan Harris, senior vice president of education and workforce for the Tulsa Metro Chamber, said if the Tulsa area can grow its percentage of residents with college degrees just one percentage point, it would mean an extra $646 million per year in economic activity. The Tulsa metro area had a gross domestic product of $45 billion in 2008, according to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis.
“We know a city that doesn’t grow dies, so growth is important,” Harris said. “Everything we’re doing is about making sure we are open and receptive to new people coming in and living here, locating their businesses and bringing their families and we are receptive to higher density development in the inner core of the city.
Harris said the chamber is working with colleges, universities and businesses to identify residents who were close to finishing a degree but never did. Another effort includes tightening the integration of career pathways. For example, in the nursing field, it includes ways for certified nursing assistants to get their licensed practical nurse certification and for registered nurses to get bachelor of science degrees in nursing.
More poor in suburbs
Nationally, the Brookings report found 53 percent of the metro poor now live in suburbs, up from 48 percent in 2000. This increasing suburbanization of poverty has implications for policymakers, who have traditionally directed social programs to large cities, said Alan Berube, Ö who headed up the analysis for the Metropolitan Policy Program.
The latest food stamp numbers from the state Department of Human Services shows that the number of people getting food stamps in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metros rose more than 30 percent between February 2009 and February 2010. But most outlying counties in those metro areas posted higher percentage increases than Oklahoma and Tulsa counties.
Katz, meanwhile, said America’s population growth and diversity, particularly in its metro areas, may be its “ace in the hole.”
“In the global context, the United States is a demographically blessed nation,” he said. “Established competitors like Japan, Britain and Germany are either growing slowly or actually declining; rising nations like China remain relatively homogenous.”
The Oklahoman’s Watchdog Team: Looking out for you.
Read the entire Brookings report on the new metro landscape.
Oklahoma fact sheets:
You can check out a Google spreadsheet of the tweets here.
Here’s a quick tag cloud I created using IBM’s ManyEyes tool:
If you’re interested in the public interactions among government, technology, social networks and freedom of information, you might want to check out the Gov2.0a conference at the Cox Convention Center in downtown Oklahoma City on May 6-7.
I’ll be presenting on a panel about the media’s role in the Government 2.0 movement.
Other confirmed speakers are the state’s new chief information officer, Alex Pettit, as well as Lt. Gov. Jari Askins, Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, and Rep. Ryan Kiesel, D-Seminole. At the local government level will be Zach Nash with the city of Oklahoma City, Matt Mueller from Guthrie and Dustin Haisler from Manor, Texas.
Check out the full list of speakers and sessions here.
Also, all conference attendees will get a free copy of the Open Government book published by O’Reilly. (It’s also available as an iPhone app here.) Co-author Laurel Ruma is one of the speakers at the conference.
The prices for passes and dinner tickets to the conference range from $49 to $99 before April 30. After that, they range from $99 to $159.
In other Gov 2.0 news, the Oklahoma House of Representatives last week passed an amendment to Senate Bill 1759, which would expand the state’s efforts to put government information online. The amendment, by Rep. Murphey, followed an earlier effort that fell short. SB 1759 now heads back to the Senate for consideration.
In an e-mail, Murphey said SB 1759 goes much further than his earlier bill. Here’s how he summarized the main points of the proposal:
1. Establish standardized social media and limited liability polices for state agencies.
2. The standardization of interfaces for the utilization of state government services through web-based access. (Such as the 311 open source standards.)
3. Require data set publication and APIs to interface with the data sets with a focus on pushing out the data which is most often requested through open records requests.
4. Establish an application process by which developers and members of the public can ask the board to require new data feeds.
Meanwhile, in Washington today, a bipartisan group of lawmakers organized the first Transparency Caucus, which will attempt to pass laws requiring certain government information to be posted online. That effort is being supported by the Sunlight Foundation, a government and technology “think tank.”
From Sunday’s paper:
BY JOHN ESTUS, PAUL MONIES – THE OKLAHOMAN and GAVIN OFF – Tulsa World
2010 Copyright © The Oklahoman
The state of Oklahoma makes tens of millions of dollars selling personal information about people that some lawmakers and labor organizations want kept secret for government employees, The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World have learned.
At least $65 million has been made in the past five years from the sale of millions of motor vehicle records that include birth dates and other personal information of all state drivers, Department of Public Safety records show.
A private company has collected about $15 million conducting most of those transactions on behalf of the state, records show.
As a result, birth dates and other personal information flow freely on a daily basis to insurance companies, employment screening services, government agencies, attorneys, individuals and more.
While the state earns money selling records that include birth dates, lawmakers and some labor groups are working to shut off access to birth dates of public employees to the public, The Oklahoman and others working on the public’s behalf. Senate Bill 1753, by Sen. Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, would exempt government worker birth dates from the state’s Open Records Act.
Leftwich, Terrill and supporters of the bill claim releasing birth dates could endanger the safety of employees and lead to identity theft. They have provided no evidence of such harm being done in the past as a result of birth dates being public.
Leftwich and Terrill did not return calls Friday seeking comment on the state selling motor vehicle records that include birth dates.
One privacy expert said keeping birth dates secret won’t help protect workers’ identities or safety because the information is already available elsewhere.
“What I would tell them is, ‘Stop trying to shut the barn door after the horses are gone,’” said Richard J.H. Varn, chief information officer for the city of San Antonio and executive director of Coalition for Sensible Public Records Access. “It’s a lack of understanding by policy makers to what an effective countermeasure is to identity theft.”
Birth dates of public employees are presumed open records in Oklahoma under a recent attorney general opinion. They make it possible for the public to accurately identify government workers whose salaries they pay with tax dollars. Birth dates are found in numerous public documents, making them crucial components of background checks because they allow the public to differentiate between people with common names.
Government agencies have for years provided their employees’ birth dates in response to open records requests.
Records easy to get
Among the most widely distributed records that include birth dates are the motor vehicle records the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety maintains for all licensed drivers.
Motor vehicle records include driver names, birth dates, driver’s license numbers and recent driving histories. Some of that information is not available under the state Open Records Act.
Motor vehicle records can be bought online or in person. The state gets $10 per record, and most of the money goes into the state’s general fund, said Wellon Poe, chief legal counsel for the Department of Public Safety.
Top clients are clearing houses that sell the information to insurance companies and corporations, Poe said.
In order to get motor vehicle records, requesters must sign agreements saying they are authorized to receive the information under the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. The act contains more than a dozen possible scenarios that allow numerous public and private organizations and individuals to obtain the records.
The requester must also provide the name and another unique identifier — such as an address or driver’s license number — of the person whose record they are requesting, Poe said.
Poe said it’s tough to prove whether those who sign the agreements meet the requirements to begin with.
“We don’t go out and run a big background check on somebody that walks in and tries to get an MVR,” Poe said.
State tag agents also sell motor vehicle records. Money made from those sales flows through the state Tax Commission and wasn’t included in the revenue records provided by the Department of Public Safety, Poe said.
Most of the records are bought online for $12.50 each, with $10 going to the state and a $2.50 processing fee going to the company that operates the state’s Web site.
NIC Inc., the operator of www.ok.gov , has made an estimated $15 million off those fees in the past five years, according to an analysis of Department of Public Safety revenue records.
The Kansas-based company has contracts to run government Web sites in 22 other states. The Office of State Finance in December renewed the state’s contract with Oklahoma Interactive LLC, an NIC subsidiary that the state has contracted with for Web services since 2001.
Of the $132.9 million in revenue NIC reported in 2009, nearly half came from selling motor vehicle records and driver’s license data from the states it serves, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
In marketing materials and news releases, NIC emphasizes that its services are offered at no cost to states, an important selling point because of budget shortfalls. The revenue from motor vehicle records sales has allowed the company to provide more than 280 services online for state government in Oklahoma.
Chris Neff, vice president of marketing for NIC, said companies such as ChoicePoint/LexisNexis, Insurance Information Exchange, American Driving Records and Acxiom Information Security Services regularly buy motor vehicle records from Oklahoma.
“The biggest single reason why they’re pulling it is because they use the driver history information to set rates for your annual renewal for your vehicle policy,” Neff said.
Neff said those companies also package the same information with other sources such as credit reports, property records and criminal histories. Those companies often use birth dates as secondary identifiers to distinguish people with common names from one another, he said.
“All those data points may be used, but there are restrictions as part of the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act in how that information may be used and how often it may be used,” Neff said. “The risks of having outdated data impacts whether somebody is extended credit or what rates they pay for certain services. It’s incumbent on having accurate, regularly refreshed information.”
Schools sell information, too
Elsewhere, birth date information is available to third parties from public schools, colleges and universities. A federal law, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, governs the release of student directory information. That information is also available under the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
The directory information includes a student’s name, birth date, telephone number and address, along with other records. Schools must allow students to opt out of the disclosure, though local school officials said students rarely do.
Since 2000, Oklahoma State University has provided or sold student directory information 242 times, records show. In at least 19 cases, the data included birth dates.
“It could have been a lot more,” OSU spokesman Gary Shutt said.
OSU has sold student birth dates to a party store, a church and the university’s faculty council, for example. It also has provided student birth dates to the military for free.
Shutt said the university recently began providing year of birth instead of date of birth for standard directory information requests. OSU made the switch because some students use birth dates as passwords for various accounts. However, Shutt said OSU would likely provide birth dates upon request and no one has complained about the university providing the information.
The University of Oklahoma also provides student directory information to entities that request it, but it has not provided birth dates since at least 2008, said Rachel McCombs, OU’s open records officer.
An open records request by the Tulsa World for a list of recipients of OU student directory information is pending.
Concealing birth dates in public records is not an effective measure to fight identity theft because birth dates are available in so many other places, said Varn, the privacy expert from San Antonio.
“It’s like saying because terrorists use airplanes we’re going to quit flying,” Varn said. “No. There are worthy countermeasures.”
Birth dates can be found in voter registration records, driver’s licenses, lawsuits and even registration forms for some Web sites.
“If you want to buy someone’s full identity, you can buy it for 30 cents to $60 on the black market,” said Varn, who served for 12 years in the Iowa General Assembly.
Sponsors of the Coalition for Sensible Public Records Access, which Varn represents, include some of the largest data resellers in the country.
Varn said governments should encourage people to monitor their credit reports, protect their personal computers with security software and ask online businesses to require a password with transactions that use credit cards.
But they shouldn’t block access to public data, he said.
“They sell it for good reason,” Varn said. “People actually need it to do good things in the world.”
For example, employers use birth dates to help run background checks on job applicants. Journalists use birth dates to help find everything from sex offenders who drive school buses to felons who have gun permits.
“Clearly, we’ve had examples of public employees being hired and faulty background checks being done,” said Joey Senat, an open records expert and associate journalism professor at Oklahoma State University. “It’s unfortunate, but we need to know with whom we deal with in life, and this is a way to do it.”