Tulsa World: Why birth dates of government employees are important to the public

A Tulsa World editorial today criticized the state Senate for moving last week to exempt public employee birth dates from the Open Records Act.

Like this blog did Friday, the editorial noted that senators passed the bill with no debate or questions.

The editorial also demonstrated how access to the information can help prevent the wrong people from being identified as criminals. Thirty-three state legislators' names match those of felons listed in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections database.

The editorial also pointed to the newspaper's investigation years ago that found more than 200 school district employees "were arrested and jailed in Tulsa County for various offenses, including felonies. Some of the employees had arrest records prior to their employment and others got into trouble with the law after they were employed."

As a result of the reporting, legislators "tightened up requirements on school districts to check out the public records of their employees."

"The investigation wouldn't have been possible — and the felons would still be in the school house — if birth dates were kept secret," the editorial explained.

"Some people want to keep their secrets secret," the newspaper concluded. "The public should know that the secret to transparent government is a dedication to open records that are accessible and usable."

At the
March 13 FOI conference in Oklahoma City, an internationally recognized expert on data privacy will explain why exempting birth dates from public records won't lessen the threat of identity theft.

He also will explain how improved identity management technology and practices, along with public education on self-protection measures, would be more effective defenses.

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.