Newspaper asks judge to lift order stopping release of state workers' birth dates; database editor shows DOBs, personal info readily available on Web

The Oklahoman on Thursday asked a judge to lift a temporary restraining order preventing the release of government workers' dates of birth and to order the state to provide the information.

Oklahoma County Judge Bryan Dixon in early April
granted the order sought by the Oklahoma Public Employees Association and the Oklahoma State Troopers Association.

(See CJ-2010-2623, Oklahoma Public Employees Association v. Oklahoma Office of Personnel Management)

OPEA officials have argued that release of the information poses a serious threat of identity theft despite contradictory opinions from privacy experts and the OPEA's inability to provide examples of public records being used to commit identity theft.

In the newspaper's request for a summary judgment,
The Oklahoman noted that various government agencies have provided it with birth dates of public employees for the past 10 years.

attorney general opinion in December said government employee birth dates are presumed open unless the public body can demonstrate that the employee’s privacy outweighs the public’s interest in disclosure.

In support of the trooper association's request to join OPEA as a plaintiff was an affidavit by Russell Knoke, second vice president of the Oklahoma State Troopers Association, expressing concerns that releasing birth dates could endanger the lives of troopers and their families.

At an April press conference, Knoke said:
Our biggest concern is family and personal safety, the threat represented by an aggrieved member of the public one of our trooper’s may have dealt with in the past. To simply dump all troopers’ birth dates out there without regard to their personal safety is not acceptable.

Knoke seems unaware that the information is already available to the entire world -- a point made clear in The Oklahoman's evidence supporting a summary judgment.

In less than five minutes on the Internet, database editor Paul Monies found Knoke's DOB, home address, home phone number and other personal information.

On the Oklahoma State Troopers Association website, for example, Monies learned:
Russell graduated from the 39th academy in 1982. The areas in which he has worked include, Troop L Rogers County, Inola, and Troop L Rogers County, Catoosa. He currently is assigned to Troop S out of Sallisaw in Sequoyah County.

He graduated from Sallisaw High School and from Oklahoma State University with a bachelor’s of science degree.

Russell is married to his wife, Debbie, and has two sons, Tyler and Max.

On the AnyWho site, Monies found Knoke's home address and phone number.

Monies learned Knoke's birth date from

Monies verified the information by using Knoke's voter registration records maintained by the Oklahoma State Election Board.

Point to Monies (a fellow member of the FOI Oklahoma board of directors) and The Oklahoman.

In addition to FOI Oklahoma and the Tulsa World, the amici supporting public disclosure of the DOBs are KWTV, KOTV, KFOR, KOCO, KOKH, KJRH, KTUL, Oklahoma Press Association, Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Radio Television Digital News Association, Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media and Strategic Communication
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.