The issues about rights to privacy and the battle over pension benefits have come together in an interesting story about retired public employees in California. Defined benefit pensions where the employer bears the investment risk have almost disappeared from the landscape of employment in the private sector. They have been replaced by defined contribution plans that place the risk on the employee. Defined benefit plans are still the norm for public employees. In California they are administered by CalPERS, the California Public Employees Retirement System. Public employee pensions have become a major target of the political forces of austerity.
CalPERS has just announced a new practice in information sharing.
California's mammoth public retirement system will fire up a new searchable pension database this month, according to a notice sent recently to member organizations.Legally this information was already a matter of public record, but somebody who was intensely curious about Mary Smith's pension and how it was calculated would have had to make a trip to the CalPERS office to get the information.
The database will provide retiree information that is considered public: pensioners' names, their monthly gross pension payment, their base allowance, the Cost of Living Adjustment, their years of service, when they retired, their pension benefit formulas, final compensation and last employer.
There are some running controversies about California pensions revolving around practices during an employee's final working years that have the effect of boosting pension payments. The mater is also bound up with the issue of public unions who are strong advocates of maintaining the current level of pension benefits. The convinience of this new online database will doubtless be welcomed by members of the Tea Party.
Apart from these broader political issues, this also raises concerns about personal privacy. It is one more example of how the technology of the internet is taking information that while not legally confidential, we are accustomed to the notion that it is not made broadly public. The controversies over Google street view are one such example.
While there are likely more earth shaking matters than this going on in the world, this does not strike me as progress.