This week, a very disturbing thing happened.
A local Major Newspaper decided to put a link to a huge database on their front page. This database contained the names, titles, agencies, and salaries of the people who are employed by the State of Colorado. This was not done as a part of a story, or an expose, or with any sort of analysis involved. When asked by multiple people why they had chosen to do this (particularly, why they had chosen to publish names and not just job titles/positions), they responded, “Because we can.” The paper feels that “taxpayers need to know where their money is going.”
Yes, my salary and the salaries of all state employees in this state are a matter of public record (because we are civil servants). However, there is a process through which one must generally go in order to obtain this information (the process the newspaper went through). Now this information is available for anyone to see with the click of a button, whether that be a future employer, an identity thief, or a coworker with a grudge. It is extremely easy to use this information for the detriment of the employees involved. For example, there is only one ME employed by the state (there is only one ME in the country, as far as I have been able to ascertain). Not that I care all that much if someone wants to know how much I make (it’s not that much, I can assure you), but it still feels like an invasion of privacy. And the exact same purpose could have been accomplished had the paper chosen to publish this information without the names of the individuals, without any of the risks involved.
Take people who are employed by the state and in the legal or correctional industries. What about criminals with grudges? Or people who have taken pains to hide themselves from ex-husbands or wives, people who may have a valid reason to be afraid someone can find them? I can think of any number of scenerios in which the publication of this information could be very damaging to the state employee. Also, life becomes more difficult for the employers of people who can, at the touch of a button, find out how much their coworkers make. And use this bargaining chip. Or people once employed by the state who wish to switch to private employment. How convenient that they no longer have the means with which to bargain for a future salary, because the employer can easily see how much the person currently makes (or made).
The most amusing part to me, in all this fucked-upedness, is that from what I understand much of this data is incorrect. I haven’t looked to see if what they say I make is actually what I make, but several of my fellow state employees have reported inaccuracies. And best of all? A large percentage of state employees (which includes people employed at universities, etc.) don’t even get paid with state taxpayer funds, but grants, federal funds, or other funding streams which don’t involve the state general fund at all. Like my salary, for example, is paid for by the program I run, not the good citizens of this state. Yet my information is (I assume) out there for anyone to see.
We were informed that this information was going to be published about fifteen minutes before the fact, and had absolutely no say in the decision to make this information so easily acessible. Even if the newspaper took it down, it’s out there in cyberspace; someone has already copied it for who knows what purpose, I am sure.
Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD. I have no idea what the fallout from this decision could be, but I’m going to be keeping an eye on my credit reports. And I will never again contribute any money to this newspaper or its sister paper. I fail to see what makes including employees’ names so important to this data set; the exact same purpose could have been accomplished without names and there would have been no repercussions for state employees. Shame on you, Major Metropolitan Newspaper.