The Fourth Amendment to our Constitution guarantees that “the people” will be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects. I strongly believe that a primary focus of government officials should be on protecting the privacy of our citizens, not on protecting other elected officials at the expense of our citizens’ privacy rights.
In the 2007 legislative session, I sought the defeat of HB 2061, which made it legal for Texas County Clerks to reveal an individual’s Social Security Number (SSN) and which granted immunity to the Clerks against any civil or criminal liability for revealing your SSN and other confidential information.
Texas County Clerks shut down access to public records in response to the February, 2007 Texas Attorney General Opinion No. GA-0519, which held that revealing a SSN or other confidential information is a violation of law and constitutes “official misconduct”, which is grounds to remove an elected official from office. Since many County Clerks had posted public records that contained SSNs and other confidential information on the Internet, they were vulnerable to civil and criminal liability for such posting. State law requires County Clerks to make public records accessible at all reasonable times.
My position is that SSNs and other confidential information should be removed from the copy of the public record provided to a requester and from copies of public records before they are posted on the Internet.
It only took a week for HB 2061 to pass unanimously in both the House and Senate and be signed into law by Governor Perry.
HB 2061 became law so quickly because of the enormous pressure on state legislators from many businesses to re-open access to public records, so that these businesses - title companies, real estate companies, financial institutions, and oil & gas companies, which rely on public records, could continue conducting business. County Clerks shutting down access to public records thereby hindering many businesses resulted in legislation that made it legal to disclose your SSN and granted immunity from civil and criminal liability to the Clerks.
Only thieves need SSN and confidential information to conduct business, legitimate businesses do not.
County Clerks hold the position that it is their responsibility to provide access to public records regardless of what information the records contain. Our County Clerk sold approximately 20 million public records for about $2,000 to an Internet company, Red Vision, which provides confidential information on individuals for a fee.
AG Opinion GA-0519 held that state law requires that County Clerks remove SSNs and other confidential information from a copy of a public record before providing that copy.
HB 2061 does provide that you can have your SSN removed from public records. Unfortunately, you have to go in person to the County Clerk’s office and identify the document and page your SSN is on.
The County Clerk temporarily suspended access to Fort Bend County’s public records via the Internet. Unfortunately, those records have been on the Internet since 2005. An Internet company now possesses all of the county’s records and will provide them to anyone for a small fee.
I continue my efforts to have SSNs and other confidential information removed from copies of public records before they are provided to requesters and before they are posted on the Internet.