FOI advocates chide OKC officials for not releasing employee’s DOB

The Oklahoman isn’t letting up on Oklahoma City officials who refuse to release the birth date of an employee placed on administrative leave while officials investigate the management of a federal grant.

In today’s article, freedom of information experts said the fear that releasing DOBs from public records will cause identity theft is unjustified. “Those fears aren’t backed up with statistics or even anecdotal evidence showing public records are a source for identity thieves,” reporter Bryan Dean summarized.

In an editorial today, the newspaper also took issue with the city’s refusal to release the name of another employee placed on administrative leave during the investigation. The editorial pointed out that the Open Records Act doesn’t prohibit the city from releasing the name or information about disciplinary actions. The newspaper called on city officials to “err on the side of transparency.”

City officials a week ago said the director of the program being investigated had been suspended. His name was released. The next day, city officials backtracked, saying he had been placed on administrative leave along with another employee, whom they refused to identify, the newspaper reported.

In refusing to release the birth date of the program director, city officials cited a statutory exemption allowing them to keep secret some information in personnel files if the release would "constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

Birth dates are personal. But are they truly private?

Courts outside Oklahoma generally have agreed that people do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when the information is contained in statutorily mandated public documents directly related to births and deaths, marriages, divorces, arrests, land sales, or other matters of "public record."

A federal appellate court, for example, said a right of privacy did not protect the name, age, and date of birth of registered sex offenders because the information was "already fully available to the public."

In Oklahoma, birth dates can be found in voter records and other public documents. The same can’t be said for the Open Records Act-provided examples of an unwarranted invasion of privacy.

Under the statute, governments “may keep personnel records confidential … where disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy such as employee evaluations, payroll deductions, employment applications submitted by persons not hired by the public body, and transcripts from institutions of higher education maintained in the personnel files of certified public school employees.” (OKLA. STAT. tit. 51,
§ 24A.7(A)(2))

Employee evaluations and payroll deductions are not available in other public records. Birth dates are.

Some readers seem to think the newspaper wants to publish the DOB. That’s not why the newspaper is seeking the information.

The DOB will help identify the person at issue as the newspaper checks other public records.

Keeping open the birth dates in public records isn’t important just for the news media.

Ever go into business with someone? Hire an employee? Concerned about your child’s school bus driver or baby sitter? What about your daughter’s new boyfriend?

Without a DOB, as Dean noted today, it can be impossible to differentiate in public records between two people with the same name.

City Attorney
Kenny Jordan also has cited the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act as a reason for not releasing the date of birth from a personnel file. In an earlier posting, I explained why I don’t believe that federal statute applies.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Journalism

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, or its board of directors. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.