Capitol Press Conference Addresses Privacy Concerns

The Oklahoma Public Employees Association held a press conference today at the Capitol to discuss with the media an injunction filed against the state of Oklahoma. The injunction seeks to keep private a state employee’s date of birth.

“We filed this in an effort to stop the Office of Personnel Management from divulging the dates of births of all 40,000 state employees to any third party—specifically the Oklahoma Publishing Company, which does business as The Oklahoman,” said OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley.

“The Oklahoman made a batch request, meaning reporter John Estus requested this information for all state employees. It is our opinion Estus requested this information in an effort to circumvent the legislative process from moving forward on SB 1753.

“We believe Estus will use this information to compare against databases to reveal tax warrants, bankruptcies, divorces, traffic tickets, and any other thing that would embarrass state employees and state government,” Zearley added.

That bill, authored by Senator Debbe Leftwich, passed unanimously out of the Senate and is now in the House of Representatives.

“As a state administrator back in the ‘80s, we had a similar situation here at the Capitol with employees’ Social Security numbers. There were those who thought because you are a state employee, everything about you is an open book. That is not the case,” Leftwich said.

Representative Randy Terrill addressed a reporter from local Oklahoma City television station KWTV-9, who said releasing an employee’s date of birth would make a journalist’s job easier.

“We’re not here to make your job easier,” Terrill said. “We are here to protect our state’s workforce. I believe in good old-fashioned journalism where you pick up the phone and ask a question. We believe in transparency in government, and if there is a person on the state’s payroll who has committed a crime, we want that person exposed. That’s not what The Oklahoman is doing. They are going on a witch hunt after every state employee and we are saying we will protect those employees’ rights to privacy.”

An on-going national debate continues about the issue of employee’s privacy. A number of other states, including Hawaii, Arkansas,Kentucky, South Carolina and Delaware have language similar to the Open Records Act “invasion of personal privacy exception.” These states have found that dates of birth are not subject to disclosure.

In addition, a number of state courts in New York, Pennsylvania, Kansas and Arizona have also addressed the date of birth issue and have reached the same conclusion that dates of birth are not subject to disclosure.

A hearing on the injunction is set for Wednesday, April 7th in Oklahoma County District Court.

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