Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater denied an open records request Monday for the birth dates of Oklahoma County employees despite a recent opinion from Attorney General Drew Edmonson that birth dates of public employees are presumed open records.
A letter signed by Prater called the request by The Oklahoman "clearly an unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy” of county employees, citing an exemption in the Oklahoma Open Records Act. Edmondson released an opinion this month saying because birth dates aren’t specifically mentioned in the exemption, they are presumed open. "This flies in the face of the attorney general’s opinion,” said Joey Senat, an Oklahoma State University journalism professor and open government advocate. "When you leave the decision to the public officials, some of them are going to ignore the law and do what they want.” Edmondson’s opinion said a public agency can’t have a blanket policy refusing to release birth dates. Because birth dates are presumed open, it is up to the agency to show how the release of a birth date would be an invasion of privacy, Edmondson’s opinion said. Such a decision on an exemption must be made and explained on an individual basis. If it is determined that releasing a birth date would be an invasion of privacy, the privacy concern of the request must be weighed against the public’s interest in having the records open. Prater’s letter did not explain why releasing birth dates would be an invasion of privacy and did not address the public’s interest in checking names and birth dates of county employees against databases of criminal records, political contributions and other information the public might want to know about its employees. Without a birth date, it is impossible to distinguish between people who might have common names. Prater also refused to explain the decision or answer questions when reached by phone. "I’m not concerned about your confusion,” Prater said.