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    Houston Chronicle: State workers’ birth dates will be kept private

    The Houston Chronicle reports on a case concerning the privacy of Texas state employees’ birth dates. The case is Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts v. Attorney General of Texas and the Dallas Morning News (03-07-00102-CV, 244 SW3d 629, 01-17-08) Case No. 08-0172 (Dec. 3, 2010). The opinion is available in html here and in pdf here.

    The birth date information of state employees does not have to be disclosed to the public, the Texas Supreme Court said in a ruling Friday that freedom of information advocates warned would restrict the public’s right to know.

    The opinion overturns trial and appellate court rulings favoring the Dallas Morning News’ efforts to obtain date of birth information, which Texas Comptroller Susan Combs resisted on grounds that doing so would intrude on the privacy of some 144,000 state employees. […]

    Date of birth information is vital for news reporters, researchers and others using data bases to positively identify people, [Keith Elkins, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation,] explained, noting that more than a dozen Texans named “Rick Perry” have criminal convictions.

    “Not one of those would be the governor. The only way to be sure is with the date of birth,” Elkins said.

    Writing for the court, Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson noted that identity theft cost Americans nearly $50 billion in 2007.

    “When the privacy rights of a substantial class of innocent third parties are affected by one of our decisions, we have a duty to pay them heed,” Wallace wrote in the court opinion. “And because the state employees’ privacy interest substantially outweighs the minimal public interest in the information, we hold that disclosure of state employee birth dates would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

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