TAHLEQUAH, OK — Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. signed an executive order Thursday safeguarding Cherokee Nation employees’ privacy rights and ensuring their privacy is protected and maintained. The action also aims to protect employees’ data and alert them when someone asks for their information.
A FOIA request was submitted to the Cherokee Nation Attorney General’s office asking for a decade of Cherokee Nation and Businesses employee data. The Attorney General’s office has not yet issued a response.
Chief Hoskin said the FOIA request asks for the largest amount of data of employees ever received and raises concerns about privacy and safety given identity and data theft, phishing schemes and the number of ways data can be mined or posted online for anyone.
“The Cherokee Nation must maintain transparency as a government, but we must also ensure our employees’ personal data is protected and does not subject them to potential harassment or unsolicited commercial inquiries when requested by third parties,” Chief Hoskin said. “Our employees also have rights including the right to privacy and the right not to be kept in the dark when it comes to the inquiries or release of their data.”
Under the executive order, the Cherokee Nation Chief of Staff will assemble an internal work group to examine the existing “laws, policies and technology” related to the privacy of Cherokee Nation government employees, including open records laws, identify any gaps, and will make recommendations to safeguard employee privacy. The report detailing potential reforms is due within 90 days.
“There is a request pending that asks to disclose information from the personnel files of thousands of Cherokee Nation employees,” said Cherokee Nation Chief of Staff Corey Bunch. “Assuming the law even requires such a mass disclosure from employee personnel files, Chief Hoskin and his administration believe employees have a right to, at the very least, know when their information is being sought, from whom it is being sought, and to have someone flag for them how the information might be used. In this day and age, names and documents can be shared online quite easily and thus subject our employees to a host of potential dangers or harassment.”
Chief Hoskin said he remains committed to transparency, but the rights of Cherokee Nation employees are equally important. Nothing in his executive order changes the law as it relates to the pending information request.
“Cherokee Nation employees are public servants,” Chief Hoskin said. “This order keeps our open records laws fully in tact while giving government employees the respect they deserve and the information they need to know who might ask for or receive access to their personal information.”