Association Fights to Keep State Employees' Birthdates Private
By Dave Jordan, NEWS 9
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma Public Employees Association is not backing down from its quest to keep state employees' information, such as birthdates, private.
This all happened after The Oklahoman reportedly requested a list of state employees and their birthdays, but when the Public Employees Association would not give it up and today, they took further steps to that effect.
Birthdates are a common identifying marker freely disclosed by police on their crime reports and on their news releases, but now there's a push to keep that under wraps, at least when it comes to state employees.
"OPEA believes and advocates for transparency in government, but it's obligated to stand behind what we believe is an unwarranted, invasion of privacy, that could jeopardize employee's safety," OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley said.
Earlier this month, members of the OPEA rallied at the state Capitol on this issue. Monday, it went one step further. OPEA filed a temporary injunction to stop the state from releasing that information. The measure is directed squarely at The Oklahoman, but it will affect all reporters who could face challenges in getting birthdates of the subjects they're covering.
"Our interest is not in facilitating the privacy or safety interest of employees to make your job a little easier," Rep. Randy Terrill (R) said.
But the Executive Director of Investigative Reporters and Editors, Mark Horvit, said he takes issue with the notion that privacy and safety is compromised by a birthdate.
"Anybody who really wanted to find someone's date of birth could almost certainly find it another way," Horvit said. "The question is with that what could they really do to steal someone's identity."
Horvit said he believes such a measure closes one more door of public access to information.
"You have a fundamental right to know who's working for you as a state employee and it's going to be much harder to confirm those things and to find that out in certain cases," Horvit said.
But Representative Terrill and Senator Debbie Leftwich, who wrote legislation to prevent the release of birthdays and other information, insisted they are not trying to prevent public access.
Efforts to obtain a comment from The Oklahoman were unsuccessful.
An Oklahoma County district judge is expected to hear arguments for and against the temporary injunction next week.