STATE workers won and the people who pay their salaries — the taxpayers — lost when the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that it's not in the public interest for the media to request state employees' birth dates and employee identification numbers.
Open records expert Joey Senat, a professor at Oklahoma State University, said it best about the court's 7-2 ruling Tuesday: “The decision is based on the justices' subjective fears rather than facts.”
That is to say, the justices bought the argument forwarded by state employee groups and some members of the Legislature that this is a security issue — that disclosing a person's date of birth could lead to identity theft, which of course can be devastating as anyone who has experienced that can attest.
But law enforcement and other experts say a person's date of birth is no factor in cases of identity theft. Social security numbers and other data are far more useful in that endeavor. Indeed a person's chances of having their identity stolen are much greater if someone rifles through their mailbox, or if they lose their wallet.
Certainly the state doesn't worry much about the potential “hazards” of making dates of birth available. The DOBs of all registered voters can be obtained — for a fee — from the state Election Board. As The Oklahoman pointed out, the Department of Public Safety earns about $12 million per year selling motor vehicle records to insurance companies — records that include birth dates of licensed drivers.
So dates of birth can be used to figure out, for example, whether the Joe Smith who works at the Department of Education is the same Joe Smith who has a criminal background of some kind. Our sense is taxpayers want to know that sort of thing.
This disappointing ruling hamstrings the media's ability to serve as watchdogs of government, which is a big loss for the public at large.