Supreme Court rules public employees' addresses are private

By Glenn Minnis | Mar 17, 2017

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that the addresses of public employees are protected by a right to “informational privacy.”

The ruling comes in response to a right-to-know request first filed by Simon Campbell several years ago when he sought the addresses of area school teachers to whom he claimed to be planning to send political mailers.

According to ABC 27, over time Campbell filed another right-to-know request in which he was able to access the city, state and ZIP code information of private citizens who had previously filed right-to-know appeals. He still was not able to gain any such data for employees of the Office of Open Records.

Campbell and his attorney, right-to-know expert Craig Staudenmaier, openly viewed that development as a “double-standard,” arguing that the information of private citizens was being made more readily available than that of government employees, according to court documents.

In rendering its decision, the state Supreme Court concluded that the right to informational privacy “may not be violated unless outweighed by a public interest favoring disclosure.” 

In an opinion written by Judge Joseph M. Cosgrove, the court added that in all such instances a balancing act must first be applied that weighs the benefit of public dissemination against those of private interests.

During the proceedings, representatives for Campbell argued that addresses are already public through property and voting records. They added that the “slippery slope” aspect of the law that stood to exist would ultimately make it more difficult for citizens to hold their government officials accountable.

Staudenmaier compared the situation to a game of Jenga, where every block you pull out weakens the overall structure of the foundation until it comes to totally collapse, according to ABC 27.

Office of Open Records Executive Director Erik Arneson countered that the double standard argument fell flat because the two requests in question were for entirely different sets of records. He added a public agency moving to release employee information is quite different from releasing private citizens’ information from public documents like appeals.

Arneson maintained that if any of the government employees had filed right-to-know appeals as private citizens, the same information about them would have been made publicly available, ABC 27 previously reported. He also said that public employee information like addresses is already obtainable through other avenues.

A native of Great Britain, Campbell describes himself as a citizen activist and believer in open and transparent government on his PARightToKnow website reports he previously served on the Pennsbury, Bucks County School Board, and during his time as a board member obtained and published the salaries and benefit packages of teachers across the state.

Campbell has also used the state’s open records law to pressure the Association of State College and University Faculties to release salary and benefits information for employees of its 14 state run institutions, eventually leading Association officials to target him in a lawsuit, according to court records.

The case ended in November of 2012 before making its way to the state Supreme Court after Campbell pulled the plug on his crusade after investing $20,000 of his own money in the long-simmering legal battle.

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