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Tell your legislators to support HB 1888 for privacy and safety

OLYMPIA (Jan. 29, 2020) — Under Washington’s Public Records Act, public employees’ home addresses and certain other personal information are supposed to be kept private. But last year, the courts ruled that their birth dates are public information because the Legislature hasn’t specifically exempted them. This exposes public employees and their families to identity theft, stalkers, and others who may want to target them at home.

HB 1888, sponsored by Rep. Zack Hudgins (D-Tukwila) and supported by the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO and unions that represent public employees, updates the Public Records Act to add birth dates to the personal data kept private.

TAKE A STAND — Please send a message to Washington state legislators and urge them to approve HB 1888. Click here to send a message today. Please edit the message with your personal thoughts and stories about why it’s important to protect the privacy and safety of the people who’ve chosen a career in public service.

BACKGROUND — Washington’s Public Records Act explicitly aims to protect the privacy and safety of public employees while improving government transparency. But that privacy and safety are now at risk. In a narrow (5-4) ruling in October 2019, the State Supreme Court ruled that public employees’ birth dates are subject to disclosure because the Legislature hasn’t specifically exempted that private information from disclosure. That means anyone can request a public employee’s date of birth as a matter of public record — a significant breach of personal privacy and safety.

In 2020, access to a name and birth date make it easy to find home addresses online. That’s why online security experts advise individuals not to give their full birth dates on social media or elsewhere. The Public Records Act was approved in 1972, long before the Internet made it easy to maliciously track and harm people by using their personal information. If exempting home addresses was considered a necessary protection in 1972, exempting birth dates is necessary in 2020 — because supplying birth dates puts home addresses just a few keystrokes away.

That’s why Washington state legislators should approve HB 1888. Please contact your legislators today and urge them to support this important legislation.

ALSO at The Stand — Newspapers take the low road with opposition to HB 1888 (by David Groves) — Two years ago, Washington’s newspapers aggressively opposed a bipartisan attempt by state legislators to exempt themselves from much of the Public Records Act. In my opinion, it was a righteous cause. This year, newspapers are aggressively opposing HB 1888, a proposal to add public employees’ birth dates to the list of information exempted from public disclosure. This time, the newspapers’ cause isn’t so righteous. Their arguments are not only weak and dismissive of public employees’ legitimate privacy and safety concerns, they are parroting cynical anti-union talking points to try to kill this legislation.

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