Comptroller Combs Successfully Defends Public Employees Against Identity Theft
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs is committed to protecting the privacy of Texas citizens and to ensuring that their personal information cannot be obtained for fraudulent purposes such as identity theft. Comptroller Combs appealed a court decision that would have required the release of dates of birth of all state employees to anyone who asked for them. On December 3, 2010, the Supreme Court of Texas agreed that the dates of birth of state employees are protected from disclosure because release would be a “clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The Supreme Court’s ruling (PDF, 138KB) is available for your viewing or download. Below is a short history of the case.
In 2005, the Comptroller’s office received a request under the Texas Public Information Act for the personal information of all state agency employees, including peace officers and corrections officers. The Texas Public Information Act is designed to ensure that the people of Texas have full access to the workings of government, but this request seemed to go beyond that goal by seeking dates of birth for all state agency employees. This agency offered to provide age as a substitute for date of birth, but the requestor insisted on receiving the specific date of birth for each employee. Later, during a hearing in district court, the requestor’s attorney was asked if two items of information – month and year – would be sufficient information; however, the requestor’s attorney stated his client was entitled to the complete birth dates including the specific month, day and year. What was particularly worrisome about releasing exact dates of birth in this context was that each date of birth is linked to an employee’s full name, title, salary, work address and other detailed information that could be used by identity thieves. Additionally, the information is in electronic format and could easily be transferred from requestors with a legitimate public interest into the hands of identity thieves and information brokers intent on preying on public servants and their families.
Because of privacy concerns and the exposure of government employees to possible identity theft and fraud, this agency referred the request to the Texas Attorney General for a ruling regarding whether dates of birth must be released in combination with first, middle and last names, places of employment, title, salaries, identification as peace officers and other detailed personal information. In response to our request for a ruling, the Office of the Attorney General issued Open Records Letter No. OR2006-01938. That ruling acknowledged the dangers of identity theft but concluded that under existing law, governmental employees’ dates of birth are made public. This affects not only state agency employees, but also employees of school districts, universities, counties, cities and other local entities.
The Comptroller sued to protect the specific dates of birth of state agency employees from wholesale release. Documents relating to the litigation may be reviewed on this page.
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs places a high value on the privacy of all Texas citizens, including governmental employees. In a 2006 report released by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, more than 250,000 complaints regarding identity theft were filed in 2005. Of those complaints, more than 26,000 were filed by Texans. The outcome of this lawsuit has tremendous consequences for state and local entities and their employees. We invite you to review the documents on this page and encourage you to educate yourself about identity theft. Please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org should you have comments about our litigation relating to the release of dates of birth.