Big brother | Arkansas Blog

Big brother



You hate it when you hear the government is building a giant data bank on American citizens for supposed "security" purposes.

But what about when a news organization builds a giant data bank on people in government? Freedom of Information laws certainly allow it.

I ask because state government is twittering today about an announcement that went out yesterday from the Office of Personnel Management. It seems that The Associated Press is compiling nationwide a database of government employees. To that end, they've requested the complete computerized records of Arkansas state employees. At a minimum, they can compile names, jobs, and pay levels. Social Security numbers and birth dates and home addresses and phone numbers are, I believe, among the items the law allows to be exempt from disclosure.

What's it for? Who knows? You can mine a wealth of data on comparative employment levels and pay among states. You can also take the data and cross-reference it with other data on business with government, on political contributions, etc. Records of private business aren't readily accessible under the FOI, of course. The openness is a benefit -- and sometimes irritant -- of a government of the people. If experience is any guide, the attorney general will be busy with complaints and/or questions about this massive information request.

As we've learned, the law even allows access to publicly provided phone records.

UPDATE: State employee reports that home addresses are being sought.

PS: The law specifies that only citizens may make FOI request. But it's a simple matter for the AP, if denied, to use a bureau representative in the state to make the request.

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