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Privacy vs. accountability in public employees birthdate bill

New IdentityTheft Scam

A proposal that would exempt the birthdates of public employees from public records requests recently passed through the state Senate 25-22, which supporters of the bill say will protect against identity theft.

The bills sponsor, Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue said that public employees are made more vulnerable to identity fraud as long as their birthdates are publicly available.

Critics of the bill say the costs to journalists will far outweigh the legislation’s benefits. Rowland Thompson, the executive director of The Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, recently explained to editors of papers in the state that their journalists need birthdates in order to do their jobs.

Cross-referencing a name with a birthdate through publicly available voter registration databases is the only reliable way to verify if the John Doe driving a school bus is the same John Doe who recently got his third DUI. Currently, reporters can obtain the birthdates of public employees through public records requests. The bill has received a broad backlash from newspapers statewide, with editorial boards throughout the state claiming that the exemptions would stifle their ability to research the criminal history of individuals. The legislation will make it more difficult to obtain that information, making it next to impossible to hold state workers accountable if they commit a crime, the editorials say.

Critics question the veracity of the claim that this bill is about protecting public employees from identity theft.

Thompson credited a court battle over public records between state labor unions and the conservative Freedom Foundation with starting this debate. Freedom Foundation has used birthdates to find the addresses of state workers to send them notices that union dues are not mandatory.

Critics also point out that the bill would not be effective at accomplishing its purported goals.

Erich Ebel, communications director for the office of the Washington Secretary of State, which oversees the voter registration databases, said that he is unaware of any identity fraud that has occurred specifically due to the public availability of this data.

“It would be difficult to commit identity theft using just publicly available information,” Ebel said.

Source: on 2018-02-21 08:07:30

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