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City Fights Blogger On Display of Public Information 134

Posted by Zonk
from the security-through-obscurity-right dept.
rokkaku writes "When the gadfly blogger Claremont Insider went searching for information about employee compensation on the city of Claremont web site, they never expected to find scans of pay stubs for all the employees. Nor did they expect the city attorney to demand that they remove copies of those pay stubs from their web site. They found it especially odd since, according to California law, the compensation of public employees is public information."
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City Fights Blogger On Display of Public Information

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  • by winkydink (650484) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Friday September 14, 2007 @06:34PM (#20610245) Homepage Journal
    Dear Rokkaku:

    You are very confused. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

    Yes, a California judge has recently ruled that the compensation of public
    employees is public information. But all of the pay stubs that I have
    seen in, oh, the last 20 years have more information on them than that.

    Many pay stubs have the employee's social security number on it. Is that
    public information?
    Are all of one's deductions for various benefits also public information?
    What about the ones dealing with health care?
    Or one's marital status?
    Or amount of tax withholding?

    In fact, an employee's pay stub probably has enough information on it
    to steal that employee's identity. Yes, the public has a right to know
    what a public employee earns. The public doesn't have a right to steal
    a public employee's identity.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      In fact, an employee's pay stub probably has enough information on it to steal that employee's identity. Yes, the public has a right to know what a public employee earns. The public doesn't have a right to steal a public employee's identity.

      But it is illegal to steal someones identity! Surely no one would break the law! The point is moot!
      • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

        by Epistax (544591)
        Does this (sarcastically implied) belief apply to gun ownership as well?
        (But it is illegal to shoot someone until they are dead! Surely no one would break the law! This point is moot!

        I know it's a MAJOR threadjack but I'm constantly thinking about my own view on gun ownership. The issues seem very different but we're talking about the same thing: improper use of resources. When do you say that someone can't have it because we fear (assume) something will go wrong?... bah my head hurts.


        /if people wou
    • by DavidShor (928926) * <supergeek717.gmail@com> on Friday September 14, 2007 @07:08PM (#20610577) Homepage
      Nice straw man, did you bother to actually look at what he scanned? There was no information about any of the things you mentioned(Except marital status, you could tell whether a girl was married by the Ms or Mrs.). All it had was a dollar amount of benefits given, Salary, and name.

      See http://claremontca.blogspot.com/2007/09/labor-day_07.html [blogspot.com]
      • by winkydink (650484) *
        The posting I read (before posting) said:

        Until all this can be sorted out, we're posting the text of our Labor Day post minus the images in question. We maintain the city claims of confidentiality for the information posted on their website are baseless.

        It does not mention if the text posted is the entirety of what was readable in the scans prior to their removal.
        • by Dun Malg (230075) on Friday September 14, 2007 @09:19PM (#20611841) Homepage

          The posting I read (before posting) said:

          Until all this can be sorted out, we're posting the text of our Labor Day post minus the images in question. We maintain the city claims of confidentiality for the information posted on their website are baseless.

          It does not mention if the text posted is the entirety of what was readable in the scans prior to their removal.
          Nice attempt at weaseling, but if you RTFA it mentions what information they contained:

          "there were no Social Security numbers, no dates of birth, no personal identifiers. The documents only contained name and pay information"

          • "there were no Social Security numbers, no dates of birth, no personal identifiers. The documents only contained name and pay information" Um, it might just be me, but isn't "name" a personal identifier?
            • If a person is a public employee, then that's part of the public record.
            • by DavidShor (928926) *
              Not really, multiple people can have the same name in a city(if you want to be a pedantic ass about it). Besides, it was not a massive database dump of all public officials. Read the article, the affected were well known city officials.
            • "there were no Social Security numbers, no dates of birth, no personal identifiers. The documents only contained name and pay information" Um, it might just be me, but isn't "name" a personal identifier?

              Yes, names can be personal identification however doesn't the taxpayer have the right to know who works for them, and how much they earn?

              Falcon
              • by sumdumass (711423)
                The government and the people working for the government don't work for the tax payer. They work for what they govern.

                While this sounds a little pedantic because they govern the tax payer, they also work for those who don't pay taxes, for the area and environment in which they govern as well as anything else that they wish to effect by their governing. And more to your point, you have a right to know what the government spends but not necessarily how much everyone working for them makes.
                • by switcha (551514)
                  Wow. Where once there was one hair, there are now two.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by badasscat (563442)
            Nice attempt at weaseling, but if you RTFA it mentions what information they contained:

            "there were no Social Security numbers, no dates of birth, no personal identifiers. The documents only contained name and pay information"


            Two things.

            1. AOL didn't think there were any personal identifiers in the search archives they released to the public either. Yet plenty of people ended up being tracked down from what was in that data. The point being, "no personal identifiers" is not a determination that you have t
            • by T-Bone-T (1048702)

              AOL didn't think there were any personal identifiers in the search archives they released to the public either. Yet plenty of people ended up being tracked down from what was in that data. The point being, "no personal identifiers" is not a determination that you have the right to make about somebody else's data.

              AOL's database also contained highly variable information. It is reasonable to assume that something containing only a name and pay information will contain only those from document to document. Internet searches, on the other hand, can contain anything.

            • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

              These are public employees. They do not have 401(k)s. They receive a public pension that pays 2.5% of their salary for each year they are employed. They are eligible at 55. This is paid into the California Public Employees Retirement System. You might try reading the information before chiming in.

              Like it or not, the information was public. These are not employees of private corporations, they are public employees whose employers are the people paying the money that supports their paychecks and bene

      • and marital status of course is public information in most states and in most cases since it typically becomes a matter of court records which are public.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Jim Hall (2985)

        Nice straw man, did you bother to actually look at what he scanned? There was no information about any of the things you mentioned(Except marital status, you could tell whether a girl was married by the Ms or Mrs.). All it had was a dollar amount of benefits given, Salary, and name.

        From the article:

        The city did not contact this blog, nor have we been told what information in the documents is confidential - there were no Social Security numbers, no dates of birth, no personal identifiers. The documents only contained name and pay information. What praytell was the top secret information that must be hidden from the public? Salary? Bonuses? But all of that is public information in the state of California.

        I'd be able to answer this question for you if I knew more about what "pay i

        • by Jim Hall (2985)

          I'd be able to answer this question for you if I knew more about what "pay information" was on the stub. I work for a public university, and our salary is public information. However, our deductions are not. You have a right to know how much I earn (state taxpayers essentially pay my salary) but you don't have a right to see what I may be taking out as child support, medical, investment, transportation, garnishment, etc. That's included on a typical pay stub where I work, and by law is considered private information. I'm sure it's the same in California.

          Ok, went back to the original blog site, and found this post. [blogspot.com] In it, he takes a swipe at Google and the Claremont City Attorney, and then gives a blanked-out version of the pay stub scan: here. [blogger.com]

          The four sections on the pay stub are: Earnings, Leave, Deductions, Benefits. There's also a section at the top for employee name & number (not SSN), gross pay, net pay. That top section (name, gross pay, net pay) is certainly public information; the taxpayers of Claremont have the right to know what the publ

    • by jthill (303417)
      A ten-second scan of TFA reveals that *none* of that inappropriate information was made public.
    • by emj (15659)
      There has been an law/policy in Sweden since the seventies that prohibits publishing you socialsecurity number on communications with the costumer. I'm sure you have something similar in the US, and looking at those payrecords they seem to contain employenumbers not socialsecurity numbers.
  • Except... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by daveschroeder (516195) * on Friday September 14, 2007 @06:34PM (#20610249)
    ..."public information" != "information that must necessarily be accessible instantly, on-demand, via collection or aggregation by a third party" (regardless of how or from whom they were obtained, and it's also not clear whether images of the actual pay stubs themselves are completely "public information", even if they were accessible for a time)

    (And love how the article is tagged "censorship"...)

    Also, there is a lot of "public information" that isn't online and instantly searchable and accessible en masse. There are other issues here, which I'd hope someone who stops to think about it for a few moments can imagine.

    And the bottom line is that anyone can still determine the compensation of a public employee if they wish to do so.

    For example, the University of Wisconsin System [uwsa.edu] made its budget summaries, including compensation - known as the Redbook [uwsa.edu] available on the internet. However, now the personnel salaries are only accessible via computers with UW System IP addresses. Else,

    Print copies of the Redbooks are located in the main library at all UW System institutions and the central public libraries in Madison and Milwaukee.

    Salary information can be obtained by contacting the Human Resources department of any UW System institution. A CD of the Redbooks from fiscal years 2000-01 to 2006-07 can be purchased for $10.00. To file a written request for salary information or to purchase a CD, contact: [...]

    Why? Because it was being abused. So now it's not universally available and publicly searchable on the internet. That doesn't mean the information still isn't "public". And before you say that the government's job should be to use technology to make access to such information easier, e.g., via putting on the internet, ask yourself if you'd want all information about you that is technically "public information" aggregated and made quickly and easily searchable by anyone on the internet on a whim, or if you'd rather that people have to actually have a legitimate need for specific pieces of information, and be willing to go through the processes to get it?

    Would you want anyone to see images of your entire pay stubs, even if you work for a public agency and your compensation is "public"?

    When things like the Redbook and Wisconsin Circuit Court Access [wicourts.gov] became more restrictive, most of the complaints I heard over time were from people who could no longer do the essential equivalent of casual stalking of individuals' salaries and civil, criminal, and traffic court records. Persons who still have a legitimate need for it can still easily get access to the information, and any member of the public can easily obtain any information they might need.

    Further, this case seems a little odd...if all of the pay stubs were available on the city's web site, why did they have to aggregate them all? They were already publicly available, right? Obviously the city didn't intend for them to be displayed or obtained the way they were, and regardless of how much "their fault" it was, how incompetent they were at running their web site, or whether it was a data leak, even if it it is "public information" doesn't mean it needs to be, or should be, aggregated en masse on a third party internet site.

    Also, while the individuals' compensation may be public, actual images of pay stubs may not be at all (and probably isn't). Again, even if the city had this out in the open through their error, that still doesn't mean it should be fair game for everyone until the end of time, regardless of whether some of the content of the image is "public information". A mistake is a mistake. The city isn't filing charges against someone for "hacking"; they're asking that images of pay stubs of city employees be removed from the internet. The public can still discover the compensation of the employees if they wish,

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by torkus (1133985)
      Public information means what it says ... information that is freely available to the public. Period. If you think there is security in making it more difficult to obtain you're delusional.

      It's like saying "free speech!!!" and then turning around and expecting someone to excercise that right only in their basement. At a whisper. When alone.

      If it's public information it should be readily available. Furthermore, if it's PUBLIC INFORMATION how can you reasonable claim copyright?! That's pure insanity.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by GIL_Dude (850471)
        Well, I think the OP had a point there. After all, with online phone directories (that sometimes have mailing addresses, etc.) coupled with this kind of data, targeted mailings become too damn easy (yes, my opinion).

        For example, run a quick query with some simple software and presto you now have the address, phone number, name of all public employees over 30 in area X,Y,Z making more than $80,000 per year. That's something I wouldn't want the average run of the mill "marketing" (read slimeball) drone to h
        • by DavidShor (928926) *
          By keeping it online and freely available at all times, there is a much smaller risk that it will be destroyed, and a much larger risk that it will be discovered. A corrupt politician now knows that he can bribe the county clerk and steal with impunity. Sure there is the possibility that a intrepid reporter will follow the paper trail to find the inconsistencies, landing him in jail. But those things don't happen very often, and if I were a corrupt politician I would disregard it.

          Once a large infrastructu

        • Well, there already are mailing list companies selling this type of demographic dataset anyways. It's all public info, its just a matter of ease of access.
      • by reddburn (1109121)
        You're missing the point. The only lines on a pay stub that are public information are those containing the name of the employee and the gross compensation. The tax information is private, unless subpoenaed. Don't couch your pseudo philosophy in legalese unless you understand the law and know even the most basic premises thereof.
    • by DavidShor (928926) *
      "Why? Because it was being abused. So now it's not universally available and publicly searchable on the internet. That doesn't mean the information still isn't "public". And before you say that the government's job should be to use technology to make access to such information easier, e.g., via putting on the internet, ask yourself if you'd want all information about you that is technically "public information" aggregated and made quickly and easily searchable by anyone on the internet on a whim, or if you'
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by peretzpup (530366)
      If it's public information & I'm a member of the public, that means once I get it I can do whatever I please with it. The government certainly isn't necessarily obligated to provide easy access to it, but I'm not sure why I shouldn't be allowed to do so. Now whether these stubs are in fact public information could, possibly, be a valid question. Bit suspicious of governments retroactively declaring information non-public after they've published it, myself.
      • 1. No one declared employee compensation non-public.

        2. Images of entire pay stubs are not necessarily (and probably aren't) public.

        3. Any member of the public may still obtain compensation information about employees from the city.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by peretzpup (530366)
          I was actually responding to the main thrust of your argument, which seemed to be that government not being obligated to present public information in an easily accessible form somehow implied that private citizens shouldn't be allowed to do so once they get their hands on it. As to the documents in question, honestly, I have no idea of their status and it seems that the city is very interested in my staying confused on this subject. That makes me strongly suspect either that these stubs being made public
          • by DavidShor (928926) *
            Interesting theory, but the pay-stubs did not contain any personal information, just "Person X made $Y and received $Z in benefits this year", and only the higher up's salaries were published. So I think I'll go with your second theory.
    • The Des Moines Register publishes a web extra [desmoinesregister.com] detailing the compensation for all state employees. (Right now it covers the 2005 fiscal year.) It is searchable by department, or by county, and you can even list them in order of salary from highest to lowest. For reference - the four highest paid state employees are coaches for the University of Iowa and Iowa State University.

      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        Well, at least they deserve the money. Do you know how much money those football teams generate in ticket sales alone? Let alone sale of licensed paraphernalia? I only with sports teams at Canadian universities generated so much money. Then the schools would have a lot more money to spend.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Well, you are right that there is more to the story than the subject line. However, you are incorrect in assuming that we at the blog aggregated the information. That was the form it was in on the city website - 283 paystub images bundled together in 1 .pdf file.

      Also, we did not post every one of the 283 images. We posted two, one for the Claremont City Manager, and one for the director of Human Services.

      Additionally, the laws governing these matters are particular to each state. Wisconsin is not

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by daveschroeder (516195) *
        Thanks for the followup. From the information posted and linked in the slashdot summary, it wasn't clear exactly how the paystub images were obtained, or the format they were in.

        You are correct that Wisconsin is not like California; I wasn't implying it was similar in every legal respect. However, the information in my example is also completely public...but it's no longer publicly accessible on-demand on the internet, and there is no legal compulsion requiring the government - whether it is the state of Wi
    • Re:Except... (Score:4, Informative)

      by jthill (303417) on Friday September 14, 2007 @08:22PM (#20611341)

      "public information" != "information that must necessarily be accessible instantly, on-demand

      Sure: the government isn't obligated to go to any great length to make it convenient for the public to get public data, and they can even charge for what efforts they do make.

      So?

      That's not even remotely similar to the government forbidding a member of the public from exposing public information which he regards as scandalous to public scrutiny, which is what happened here.

      Would you want anyone to see images of your entire pay stubs[...]?

      Even the most slack-witted scan, which I just performed with about ten seconds' effort, reveals this:

      The city did not contact this blog, nor have we been told what information in the documents is confidential - there were no Social Security numbers, no dates of birth, no personal identifiers. The documents only contained name and pay information
    • by bjourne (1034822)
      How can salary information be abused? It can't be. It doesn't allow you to loot someones bank account, fake their identity or any other kind of mischief. What it can be used to, though, is salary bargaining. It is much easier to demand a raise if you can prove, black on white, that you are underpaid. Employees know that, employers do too, which is why they want that kind of info to be a as closely guarded secret as possible. Do your colleagues know how much you earn? Does your boss like you discussing it?
    • by Dread_ed (260158)
      Public record should be just that, public. Here is what your kind of obfuscationist lawyer talk leads to (with props to our dearly beloved Douglas Adams):

      Mr. Prosser said, "You were quite entitled to make any suggestions or protests at the appropriate time, you know."
      "Appropriate time?" hooted Arthur. "Appropriate time? The first I knew about it was when a workman arrived at my home yesterday. I asked him if he'd come to clean the windows and he said no, he'd come to demolish the hous
  • Too much info (Score:2, Redundant)

    by YrWrstNtmr (564987)
    Yes, city/state/federal compensation is 'public info'. But there is much more on a pay stub that is very personal info.

    Were these actual scans?
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      Yes, these were actual scans; and no, they did not have any personal information - no Social Security numbers, no dates of birth, no home addresses, no phone numbers, no dependent information. Nothing. All of the remainder, like it or not, is considered public information for public employees under California law.

      We would not have posted the 2 (out of 283) that we did if there were personal identifiers on the stubs.

      Here is a link to a local newspaper's article on the public nature of the documents:

      h [dailybulletin.com]

      • We would not have posted the 2 (out of 283) that we did if there were personal identifiers on the stubs.We would not have posted the 2 (out of 283) that we did if there were personal identifiers on the stubs.

        Your vision of personal and mine are evidently different.
        "In Parker's pay stub, for the pay period ending Dec. 17, itemized earnings, benefits, leave earnings and deductions are listed and quantified by dollar amount."

        I am a fed employee of grade XX-YY. A person of grade XX-YY Step Q makes $ZZ,ZZZ/ye
        • by Artifakt (700173)
          Leave earned can also be affected by the transfer of prior military leave for persons who have recently entered civil service employment (They will generally have leave well above what their years in civil service would normally entail). Anomalous appearing leave earnings can identify personnel who are prior service and give a fairly good estimation of their years in service, and possibly even time in combat zones. Entire service histories have on occasion been classified at federal Secret level, and normal
  • by Surt (22457) on Friday September 14, 2007 @06:38PM (#20610289) Homepage Journal
    The compensation is public. Pay stubs are not compensation. Pay stubs contain fun stuff that may lead to the compromise of the financial security of the individual. Requesting the takedown of the pay stubs was more than reasonable.
    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by DavidShor (928926) *
      No personal information was released other than name, salary, and received benefits. This is just a local government that is embarrassed by their ridiculously high administrative salaries. See http://claremontca.blogspot.com/2007/09/labor-day_07.html [blogspot.com] .
    • by jthill (303417)

      The Dance of the Hierarchy-Worshipping Toadies-at-Large is playing *everywhere* these days, isn't it?

      Your premises are false.

      Ten seconds' effort, the simplest scan of TFA, would have shown you your premises are false.

      • by Surt (22457)
        There are two articles involved, and they contradict each other. Meanwhile the original data has been hidden, so we can't uncover the truth.
        • by jthill (303417)

          Where, please, do they say anything concrete about what was on those images?

          The city could have shut the controversy down immediately by saying anything along the lines of "at least one social security number was exposed on the images we asked Google to remove". Or home address, or anything at all concrete.

          And note this, from the dailybulletin article:

          "Bottom line is, if we have a problem with our system that would allow for information that shouldn't be public to be public, we need to identify if ther

  • by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@ g m a i l . c om> on Friday September 14, 2007 @06:41PM (#20610323) Journal
    I deal with FOIA type stuff all the time, and the truth of it is, most government employees have no idea what is public and what is not. They fire off knee jerk threats, and withhold stuff all the time.

    Used to be the media kept them in better check, but if your local newspapers aren't suing the crap out of them every time they step out of line (and mostly they're not these days, because it's expensive), then they start power tripping and keeping secrets.
  • by larry bagina (561269) on Friday September 14, 2007 @06:48PM (#20610385) Journal
    let me repeat: the yro color scheme sucks. Particularly the part where comment titles are a slightly darker shade of red than the background box.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Pootworm (1000883)
      Agreed, now I have to read the actual text of the comment to know what's being discussed. That's just not the Slashdot way!
    • Normally I'd mod you a troll, but I had to highlight the title of your comment to read it.
    • All the CSS/Themes have been changed to this retarded crap, is this some kind of a joke?
      I've checked Linux, Games, Apple, and of course YRO sections, and all of them have this color problem in their respective CSS files.
    • by rhizome (115711)
      let me repeat: the yro color scheme sucks. Particularly the part where comment titles are a slightly darker shade of red than the background box.

      Ha ha, you still use the default theme? I use the "Practically Text Only" which has barely any color fields. I'd go nuts otherwise.
    • by smoker2 (750216)
      No problem here. [headru.sh]
      Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux i686; en-US; rv:1.8.1.6) Gecko/20070725 Firefox/2.0.0.6
  • http://www.cfac.org/content/index.php/cfac-news/commentary20/ [cfac.org]

    California Supreme Court decision, IFPTE, Local 21 v. Superior Court

    Quote: "Significantly, the Court could have---but did not---limit its holding to employees earning over $100,000. While the justices no doubt were impressed by evidence of abuses and mismanagement concentrated at the high end of the public pay scale, they were careful not to ascribe any legal significance to the compensation threshold.

    Similarly, the Court could have---bu
  • by OSPolicy (1154923)
    First, I apologize to the Slashdot community for moronically making my previous posting under this same title without using preview. If I had, I'd have seen that all of my spacing was lost and I thereby made the post almost unintelligible. Moderators, if you would be so kind as to delete the previous post then I would be in your debt. Second, here's the post as it should have appeared:

    >"It doesn't make any sense," said Terry Francke, general counsel of Californians Aware. "First of all, I doubt that i
    • by DavidShor (928926) *
      Forms cannot be copyrighted. This is just a litigious local government with an overzealous lawyer.

      And as an aside, commercial income does not invalidate fair use. The logical structure of the law is not clear, and only says that the purpose of use must be considered. If it were that iron clad, Governments and corporations could sue when the media releases leaked documents, as they are profiting off their "copyright".

      • Umm.. forms can be and are copyrightable.
        I can create a form with text, that enables any number of processes to be handled well.
        Unless it's graph paper... it's unique, and creative works.

        • by DavidShor (928926) *
          I should have been specific, Government forms usually cannot be copyrighted. At the very least, they are "opt in".
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      >>"It doesn't make any sense," said Terry Francke, general counsel of
      >Californians Aware. "First of all, I doubt that it's a fact that the city
      >copyrights the pay stubs. I don't know why it would."
      >
      > They wouldn't. Why not? Because it's no longer necessary to register
      > something for the author to claim copyright. That does not mean that it's
      > not copyrighted.

      You'd be right in most cases - individuals and organizations are granted copyright by default. But the general rule with respe
    • To answer your questions:

      - We do not accept advertisements. We do have a widget that has ads, but that we receive no revenue from it; it simply comes with the widget. We've offered to remove it if it offends any readers, but no one responded, and we happen to like it because it's handy.

      - There were no personal identifiers on the stubs. No Social Security numbers, no dates of birth, no home addresses or phone numbers, no dependents. The payroll info and the names are all public records in California.

    • There's some bad lawyering going on in that article. The lawyer for the city claims attorney-client privilege over emails to Google. Not covered. Only some communications between client and lawyer are privileged. Communication between lawyer and a third party, in this case Google, are never privileged. Doesn't mean she has to hand the emails over on a simple demand, but they're not privileged. The quote from the "open government" lawyer about how an image is not a copy is pretty bizarre. But so is cl
  • Don't Give In (Score:4, Informative)

    by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Friday September 14, 2007 @06:56PM (#20610453)
    Don't give in just because the city attorney says he wants it all back. He is not the law. Only a court can decide what's legal and what isn't. Taking legal advice from a city attorney, or the policeman who just arrested you, is some of the worst advice you will get.
  • Public Information (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ackthpt (218170) * on Friday September 14, 2007 @07:02PM (#20610513) Homepage Journal

    Generally you WRITE a REQUEST for this information, not snoop around and find it. Bad on the City to leave stubs lying around as that's just more stuff for identity thieves to pillage.

    • by Claremont Buzz (1156815) on Friday September 14, 2007 @07:32PM (#20610805)
      You presume a number of incorrect things. First, there was no "snooping around" involved. The information was posted on a public, online City of Claremont archive designed to reduce the need for the public to make written requests for city documents. The site had been up for several years. We accessed the information while researching an essay on public employee compensation. We simply typed a search for the Claremont City Manager, Jeff Parker, together with the word "performance." We were looking for his latest performance evaluation, which was discussed in public at a city council meeting earlier this year. Up popped a .pdf with pay stubs for all city employees.

      Second, there was no personal information for ID thieves to use on any of the paystubs. No Social Security numbers, no dates of birth, no personal phone numbers or home addresses. Only the employee's name and payroll information. All of this information is public information in California - other states may have different laws, but this is the state of affairs in California.

      The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, a local newspaper that has been covering the story, has a copy of the same .pdf file the blog used. The paper published an article on this topic today:

      http://www.dailybulletin.com/news/ci_6888125 [dailybulletin.com]

  • The fact that the city had the pay stubs taken down doesn't worry me -- they probably shouldn't be allowed to be publicly accessible. The censorship concern of this to me is: from the article it sounds like the city's first act in finding something it didn't like online was going straight to the ISP to remove it, rather than trying to contact the person who posted the information first. It sets a bad trend -- removing from the individuals rights as well as responsibilities in what they publish...

    Who knows,
  • My wife works in city government. The salary ranges and what a called control points (maximums for a position) are indeed public knowledge although some of the high level execs hide their bonuses, but not pay levels, in obscure documents. Wonder why ;-) But as many hear have stated, an individual's pay stub isn't a position pay range--it is uniquely personal and contains information about taxation, vacation. PTO, health insurance, life insurance, possibly bank information, possibly social security informati
    • Look, we don't make the law. It is what it is for better or worse. Perhaps the city should not have posted the paystubs publically, but the fact is, in an article published today in the local Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (which has been covering the issue), several California public records experts indicated that there was nothing in the pay stub images, other than bank routing numbers, which could be redacted, that could be construed as confidential.

      There were no Social Security numbers, no home addres

  • I do believe that the government only has to publish the salaries of *positions*, unless they are elected officials. They dont ( and really shouldn't ) tie them to actual individuals for publishing.

    I also question what was on the stub, the address, and empID perhaps? That stuff shouldnt be published.
    • by mikelieman (35628)
      Those harmed shoudln't blame the Whistleblower...

      Blame the negligent Government Employee who let the documents become available in the first place.

      • by nurb432 (527695)
        Oh, i wasnt. The government was publishing first, i blame the people responsible for that..

  • It seems pretty obvious how pay stubs could contain private information. In addition to the salary they include information about deductions taken (from the withholding) that implicitly gives info about financial situation. Not to mention the possibility they include social security numbers, employee ID information or even deductions due to wage garnishment (lawsuit/divorce).

    No, the people involved didn't give the best explanations but that's probably because they (wisely) decided to act before consulting
    • by Dun Malg (230075)

      It seems pretty obvious how pay stubs could contain private information.
      Jeebus, RTFA. What might seem "obvious" to you based on idle speculation is no substitute for the actual facts of the case:

      "there were no Social Security numbers, no dates of birth, no personal identifiers. The documents only contained name and pay information"

  • The thing I notice about this blogger's investigation is that he seems very focused on the raw number that people are being paid over the context for what they are being paid for.

    That context includes things like the number of people reporting to you (or in your tree), educational requirements, duties, length of service, etc. etc. etc.

    Many of these people could be in private industry where they could earn more with the skills and experience that they have. If you want to get the best people to run you city/
  • What are these "pay stubs" of which you speak? Some of us don't get pay stubs, we get the net amount we earn.

    I'd love it if everyone just got their gross pay and a 1099. Especially "public" employees.

    Let them have the joy of filing quarterly taxes... all that paperwork keeps their public service brethren employed.

  • by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Friday September 14, 2007 @09:37PM (#20611979) Homepage
    The comments by the lawyer were amusing.

    First, he seems unaware that if something is copyrightable, copyright is automatic. So, if paystubs are copyrightable, the city would not have to do anything special. They would be copyrighted the moment they are printed.

    Second, he says that they aren't copying the paystubs, just making images of them to display, so it would not fall under copyright. An image of a document is a copy as far as copyright law is concerned, so that's strike two.

    finally, he says that this would be covered by fair use because there is no market value in the pay stubs. Affect on market value of a work is just one of the four factors considered in determining whether a use is fair use. Strike three.

    Lawyers who do not specialize in copyright often make mistakes, but this guy seems to be setting some kind of record here!

    • by JoelKatz (46478)
      He actually had a fourth strike. He missed the obvious slam dunk argument. The pay stubs are not subject to copyright because the contain no significant expressive or creative content. Every bit of content in them is purely functional.

      Maybe they had a colorful background image of a beautiful young woman running through the grass towards a gazebo with a unicorn in it?

      It is totally obvious here that the city was trying to suppress factual information. You can't do that with copyright.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by automandc (196618)
        Even more ridiculous is the City attorney's refusal to release her communications with Google, citing "attorney-client privilege." Any communication shared with a third party (i.e., someone other than the lawyer or client) is automatically not privileged. She starts to set up a claim for attorney work product by explaining how Google might become adverse, but again, a communication with a third party -- particularly the adverse party -- cannot be covered by the AWP doctrine.

        I thought it was hard to pass t

        • by JoelKatz (46478)
          I'm not sure it's clear to anyone reading this just how funny your observation is.

          Let's assume she's right and that communication did contains privileged information. The attorney-client privilege exists solely for the benefit of the client and covers information the client shares with their attorney.

          That is, she is saying that she sent Google information that the City shared with her in confidence.
    • A paystub is just an aggregation of facts/data about an employee and their pay. Copyright requires some element of originality to give protection.

      The only thing I could imagine that remotely approaches copyright would be the layout of the fields on the paystub, so the fact that the NAME is in the upper left and the Gross Pay is below it rather than to the left would be the only element of the work that required some level of originality. Didn't this type of argument already get thrown out in the old "Look a
  • The USA has been a country for well over 200 years. We started with a decent set of guidelines for basic laws, expecting to fill in the details over time, as we saw the need. (See a need, fill a need. Just like BigWeld says.)

    Fast forward to today. We've been making laws for 231 years, +/- my errors in American History and Math. There are so many, I repeat so many, laws on the books that it's unreasonable to expect any single person to know and obey them all. Even big organizations sometimes slip up an
  • I know where I work (The Cal State System) one can simply check out a book from the library listing everyone that works for the university and their current pay rate.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by cortesoft (1150075)
      I live in California, and our local newspaper prints every local government employee's salary every year in a special edition of the paper. They print everyone's - from the city manager and the mayor, down to school principals and secretaries. They have done this for as long as I can remember, and it always sparks controversy about pay rates and such, but I never remember anyone complaining that it shouldn't be public.
  • People here in the U.S. need to understand that just because they have certain rights provided by law DOESN'T mean that they should be assholes.

    I mean for example, just because I have the right to access public employee information doesn't mean that I have to go around publicly displaying the employee's pay stubs.

    Some people might disagree, saying that we should be able to find out what people are being paid (as ALOT of public officials get paid six, sometimes seven, figures just to play golf and ski), whic
  • There are several quotes where city officials basically call the blogger a thief. The blogger then goes on the point out that their actions show that they knew the real source of the information. Sounds like a the blogger could sue the city officials. If I were them Id be looking into that one.
  • I would NOT want my pay stub on the internet. Yes, what I make is public, but there is a process in which said information is given. It must be requested and then they are given only the information that is requested.
  • One of New Jersey's newspapers that likes to report government graft maintains a list of all state employee salaries. Doubtless some aren't happy about this, but as a matter of public record, they can't really do anything about it without drawing presumably unwanted attention.

    I'm on the list. I've checked some of the numbers for my facility and they're accurate. You're told your information is public record when you're hired. Hopefully it keeps people a little more honest. Doesn't mean crap if it can b
  • What is being missed here is Google's complicity in censoring the blog. They (being owners of Blogger) removed the images. Had it been Microsoft or Yahoo, I'm sure the Slashdotizens would have been up in arms ready to lynch them; but since it's Google, it's OK!
  • I can't believe nobody here has stated the obvious: By going to Google and demanding that the Claremont Insider blog be taken down, the city has censored them. What if the Los Angeles Times had printed the pay stubs and the city had responded by having the police seize its printing presses? What is this, Soviet Russia? The operators of the Claremont Insider, IMO, have a great lawsuit for violation of their civil rights under 42 USC 1983, IAAL. Even more so if the city were stupid enough to sue or arres

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