ID theft scare tactics: Fight fear with fear

A state employees union is trying to use privacy fears to keep the Daily Oklahoman from being able to find government employees who are sex offenders.

The paper requested a database of all state employees, including their name, date of birth, job description, start date, salary, agency, title and job description. Pretty standard for making sure our public employees aren’t criminals, violating nepotism policies, etc. In response, the union issued an alert urging public employees to contact the paper and their legislators to shut down the information and demand “your private information be kept confidential.”

Well, I hate to break it to them, but they are public employees and that isn’t private information anymore. The fact is any identity thief can get DOB on anyone pretty quickly. Heck, anyone can find mine online (www.pipl.com), along with my salary (Arizona Republic posted university employee salaries and in the university library), home address (Pima County Assessor’s Office), etc.

So how do we combat this fear mongering? Saying that the horse is already out of the barn doesn’t convince a lot of people, although it sometimes works (have them run their own names through http://www.pipl.com).

Another tactic: Fight fear with fear. Show people why it’s important to have that information public: sex offenders and criminals molesting our children and loved ones. We need to show people that the public good of having the information out there outweighs the drawbacks (because it does!). Paul Monies, database editor for the Oklahoman, explains it well in a column. I don’t really like having to use fear to keep records open – I would rather have a nice discussion of government accountability, democratic self-governance, etc. But that doesn’t hit home with people. Pedophiles molesting their children does.

The response will likely be, “Well, government makes sure there aren’t pedophiles working in government. I trust the government to keep me safe.” Funny that people will argue that and then five minutes later say how they don’t trust government. But they do. Gather up all the examples of where the system didn’t work. A great resource is the Investigative Reporters and Editors “Extra! Extra!” descriptions of reports. You’ll find lots of examples of government agencies failing to police themselves.

We need DOBs to make the world better. If we close public records, only identity thieves will have DOBs, and we will all be worse off.

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