An organization for employees of the state of Oklahoma is taking the state of Oklahoma to court to keep the state of Oklahoma from enforcing the law. Huh? It’s true, although the real target of the lawsuit filed by the Oklahoma Public Employees Association is The Oklahoman and in effect, the audiences we serve. What the OPEA purposely has done is create confusion among state employees about the intent of the Oklahoma Open Records Act. The organization also has a handful of enablers in the Legislature who are more than willing to do their bidding for it. That may be effective politics, but it’s bad public policy and does a disservice to the taxpayers of Oklahoma who deserve a transparent government. The OPEA wants public employees’ birth dates to be added to an already expansive list of information that is exempt from the Open Records Act. Current exemptions in the law include employees’ Social Security numbers, home addresses and telephone numbers. Attorney General Drew Edmondson says birth dates should be considered available to the public unless there are overriding reasons to shut them off. So the OPEA went to court to prevent the state from making the birth dates available upon request. The confusion created by the OPEA in recent weeks has prompted telephone calls and e-mails from readers, including state employees, who question The Oklahoman’s pursuit of the dates of birth, why we would want them and how we would use them. Please permit me to answer some of the most common questions and comments we’ve received. Why does the newspaper want this information? For decades we routinely have used dates of birth as a way of accurately identifying people, including government workers, when they are in the news for whatever reasons. Dates of birth for registered voters are available from the state Election Board. But not all government employees are voters, so we want the birth dates to eliminate common name matches when we conduct periodic background checks of public employees, whose salaries are paid by taxpayers. An example: This has allowed news organizations like ours to differentiate between Joe Smith, a registered sex offender, and Joe Smith, state employee. Here at The Oklahoman, two reporters share the same name as two sex offenders, but have different birth dates. The dates of birth are an identifying marker that goes a long way in protecting Oklahomans who have common names. Isn’t this kind of information meant to be secret? No. As stated previously, the birth dates of registered voters already are available. As Paul Monies, our database editor, points out, hundreds of companies, political parties, lawmakers, media outlets and state agencies have requested this information in the last decade. The story on Page 1 today reveals how the state is reaping millions of dollars from the sale of this information. Rep. Randy Terrill, who is pushing the Legislature to exempt the birth dates from the law, obtained a list of registered voters himself for his campaign in 2004. And Terrill also finagled a list of home addresses of state employees for the OPEA’s use, even though home addresses are exempted by law. Obtaining birth dates is identity theft. Both locally and nationally, we are aware of no case of identity theft or personal harm to an individual that came as a result of that person’s date of birth being available in a public record. Numerous recognized privacy experts agree. Would the Election Board continue to make birth dates available to hundreds of outside groups if there was truly a danger of a voter’s identity being stolen? It seems unlikely. You want to get all state employees’ birth dates so you can publish them. There is no witch hunt of state employees. Despite claims by the OPEA, The Oklahoman has never intended to publish lists of dates of birth either in the newspaper or online at our Web site, NewsOK.com. We’ve never done such a thing in our 116 years of publishing, and we certainly aren’t about to do it now. Why would any agencies in government cooperate with you? In fact, they do. For example, Drew Edmondson has made available dates of birth for all of the employees in the attorney general’s office. On a much larger scale, the Oklahoma City public school system, led by Superintendent Karl Springer, has done the same regarding school district employees. We at The Oklahoman take very seriously the traditional watchdog role of the press in modern American life. At the heart of that role is journalistic oversight of government, particularly at the local and state level. Open records — of which dates of birth are a key component — and open meetings laws allow us to do our job on behalf of our readers and online audiences. We believe you’ve come to expect that from us through the years, and we intend to continue to meet your expectations in the future.