Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Legislation is being proposed in Austin to eliminate date of births from the Texas Public Information Act. Such legislation would effectively remove one of the most crucial pieces of information used by journalists and other agencies to conduct criminal background checks.
Senator Jane Olsen of Flower Mound, TX said, "The goal of this legislation is to protect sensitive information that could put our public employees in harm's way. Dates of birth should be protected from identity thieves, who would love to have this information to unlock our personal finances."
While Olsen's statement is true, that little piece of seemingly insignificant language unlocks a surprising amount of information about a person. Removing it will do little protect employees from identity theft.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, most identity theft results from a stolen credit card, government ID or bank statement – not through a public records request. And Social Security numbers, home addresses and information about public employees' family members already are exempt from disclosure in Texas.
Many news organizations use these public records to check up on government agencies. News organizations have exposed the lack of criminal records checks done by these agencies and alerted the public to criminals who are working among them. Checks and balances are necessary and this legislation seeks to eliminate them.