CSR calls for legislative hearings to protect retirees' privacy
Aug. 16, 2013
Contact: Trinda Lundholm
Largest state retiree organization calls for legislative hearings to help protect retirees’ privacy
California State Retirees President Tim Behrens wrote letters this week to legislative leaders urging them to hold special legislative hearings to investigate the many critical issues raised by a now-stalled CalPERS proposal to post a searchable database that provides the name and benefits of all of its 550,000 retirees.
“CSR – the largest state retiree organization in California – is deeply concerned about the potential threats a database searchable by member name poses to our 33,000 members,” Behrens said in letters to Sen. Jim Beall, the chair of the Senate Public Employees and Retirement Committee and to Assemblyman Rob Bonta, chair of the Assembly Public Employees and Social Security Committee. “Many of our members are of an advanced age which makes them vulnerable to scams and rip-offs that seek to separate them from their hard-earned pensions and other assets. Releasing their names will make them susceptible to harassing marketers, fraudulent activity and identity theft.”
A similar letter from Behrens was sent CalPERS President Rob Feckner.
Behrens said that California State Retirees recognizes that CalPERS member information has been considered public information for some time and that there is indeed some value in providing public access to pension data.
“Nevertheless, we do not believe that it is appropriate to release the name and pension data of every recipient in a searchable database that could be used to target individual retirees,” Behrens said.
Interim legislative hearings will help the Legislature investigate and perhaps develop a legislative solution that strikes the appropriate balance between the personal privacy of retirees and the importance of public access to CalPERS retiree data, Behrens said.
CalPERS had plans to launch its searchable pension data base in July, but it put of implementation after several retiree groups – including CSR – vehemently objected. CalPERS announced it would postpone any such data base until seeing what happens with the controversial issue on the legislative front.
CalPERS has argued that it is legally required to reveal information, such as a retiree’s name, monthly gross pension payment, cost-of-living adjustments and some employment history, to anyone who requests the information. Addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers and medical information were not included.
On its website, CalPERS states that it is only required to release information, if asked . When no actual request is made, CSR contends the information should not automatically be put on the CalPERS website, where it is available to everyone – even those who have not formally requested it.
Ideally, Behrens said CSR would like to see a nameless system that shows only job titles and pension amounts.
And anyone looking at this information should note that only a small percentage of the money funding pensions comes from the state, Behrens said. Retirees contribute to their pensions all of their working lives and the predominant funding comes from investments made by CalPERS, which made a 14 percent profit in the last 10 months.
Another point that often gets missed in media accounts is that only 2 percent of CalPERS’ 550,000 retirees make over $100,000 a year in retirement. The average state retiree pension is about $26,000 a year.
California State Retirees is the largest and most experienced state retiree organization in California, representing 33,000 members.