To protect the safety and privacy of public employees, it’s time for the legislature to pass HB 1888 and update protections on our personal information. A recent court ruling revealed a loophole in the public records act that gives identity thieves, harassers, and other bad actors access to public employees’ birthdates and other personal information. The legislature can close this loophole by passing HB 1888, which will update state law to protect our personal information.
Can my employer really give out my name and birthdate? Yes. In most cases, public employers are required to give out their employees’ names and birthdates to anyone who asks. Under the current text of the Public Records Act, any public record is disclosable to any member of the public, unless it is specifically exempt. Public employee home addresses are exempt from disclosure, but birthdates are not, for most employees. Birthdates are protected from disclosure for certain law enforcement officers, because the legislature recognized that disclosing birthdates could be dangerous for law enforcement officers. The legislature has not yet extended the same protection to all public employees.
What can we do to stop it? WPEA went to court in 2016 to prevent the state from disclosing birthdates, on the ground that it was an invasion of our members’ privacy. The State Supreme Court ruled against us last October. The only sure way to protect birthdates from disclosure now is for the legislature to pass HB 1888 and modernize the protections for our personal information.
What’s so important about birthdates? Names and birthdates are the key that unlocks private information and exposes people to identity theft and worse.
As Justice Charlie Wiggins wrote in his dissent, “Identity theft, credit card fraud, hacking, phishing – cybercriminals use our names and birth dates to do all of this and worse. To protect against these threats, it is critical to safeguard personally identifying information like names and birth dates.” “The disclosure of names and birth dates to the public will occur without employee consent and will inevitably make these employees vulnerable cybercriminals searching for personal details at cut-rate prices online.”
Many public employees are survivors of domestic violence, stalking, or harassment. Releasing their birthdates and other personally identifiable information makes it easier for abusers and harassers to track their victims.
But this loophole is available to anyone – identity thieves, scammers, harassers, and abusers. It’s irresponsible, in the 21st century, for the legislature to give away it’s employees’ personal information like this.
When the Public Records Act was written, public employees’ Social Security numbers were disclosable. The legislature eventually recognized that they needed to modernize the law to protect such vital personal information. Today, birthdates are valuable in the same way, and it’s time for the legislature to update the law again.