Social Security numbers exempted under change to Oklahoma Open Records Act

Oklahoma governments may redact Social Security numbers from all documents under an Open Records Act amendment that takes effect Nov. 1. "All Social Security numbers included in a record may be confidential regardless of the person's status as a public employee or private individual and may be redacted or deleted prior to release of the record by the public body," according to the new provision.

House Bill 2510 was sponsored by Rep. Lisa Billy, R-Purcell; Sen. Susan G. Paddack, D-Ada; and Sen. Anastasia A. Pittman, D-Oklahoma City. It passed unanimously in both the state House and Senate. Gov. Mary Fallin signed the bill into law on April 26.

Paddack said the bill was necessary to protect against identity theft.

"I believe this is a common sense change that needed to be addressed—much like several years ago when the state finally stopped using an individual’s social security number as that person’s driver license number," Paddack wrote on her Facebook page April 21.

No single Oklahoma statute had previously governed public access to Social Security numbers in all government documents. Instead, the numbers were exempted from specific records.

For example, the Social Security numbers of current and former state employees (Okla. Stat. tit. 74, § 840-2.11) and those of public utility customers (Okla. Stat. tit. 51, § 24A.10(D)) were closed off. Likewise, municipal courts were required to keep confidential the Social Security numbers of all parties involved in cases. (Okla. Stat. tit. 51, § 24A.29(H)) State law also prohibits public access to information indexed by Social Security numbers unless disclosure is required by law or granted by personal waiver. (Okla. Stat. tit. 74, § 3113)

In contrast, the state Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that the Department of Corrections had to provide Social Security numbers and other information regarding inmates. (Transp. Info. Serv. v. Okla. Dep’t. of Corr.
, 1998 OK 108, ¶ 7, 970 P.2d 166)

But in 2008, the state Supreme Court decided that complete Social Security numbers should be excluded from all court documents available to the public. Also included in the new rules was a ban on placing court records online until all counties were able to do so. Justices said it was necessary to protect privacy and guard against identity theft.

However, critics said the rules would make it difficult to match individuals with background information. After two weeks of public outcry over the rules, the justices rescinded them.

In 2011, the court proposed requiring that filers remove all but the last four digits of Social Security, drivers license, taxpayer identification and “other personal identification numbers” from court records in civil cases. However, the approved rules permitted — but didn't require — filers to keep confidential all but the last four digits.

Filers were responsible for following the guidelines. District court clerks were not responsible for reviewing documents for compliance. Documents containing complete Social Security numbers became public records after being filed with the district court clerk.

The rule did not apply to felony, misdemeanor, traffic ticket or other cases where statutes or Court of Criminal Appeals rules “require the inclusion of the complete personal identifier number.”

But because case records are subject to the Open Records Act, it seems that district court clerks may redact the entire Social Security number from all files effective Nov. 1.


Joey Senat, Ph.D. Associate Professor OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications Mass Communication Law in Oklahoma

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