Today's paper tells us that a hacker has broken into the University of Utah's computer system and downloaded a file with confidential information about students, including many Social Security numbers. At the same time the Supreme Court is being asked to declare that the attorney-client privilege should be revoked in the case of Vince Foster, to find out what he knew about Hilary Clinton's dealings. Lawyers everywhere are up in arms about the possibly of being asked to divulge information about clients after they have died. These are only two of the privacy issues that have come up recently, in what promises to be an ongoing war, privacy vs. the right to see records.
As genealogists, we are often on the other side of the line from where we stand as private citizens. We want to be able to find out and share all kinds of information about our families. Here are two recent examples:
DO YOU EVER WANT TO SEE ANOTHER (CANADIAN) CENSUS?
So screams a recent headline from the Ancestry Daily News, online newsletter. It seems that Statistics Canada, the agency that holds the Canadian Census Records, is collaborating with the Privacy Commissioner of Canada to withhold the 1911 Census Records from the National Archives of Canada, so that they can't microfilm them and make them available to the public in 2003, when the usual 92-year moratorium has elapsed. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner has actually pressed to have the 1911 census records destroyed! The National Archivist refused to grant Statistics Canada the right to destroy the records and this is what has prompted Statistics Canada to refuse to turn them over.
The information found in the 1911 census is basically the same as the prior census, so historians and archivists have protested that this is an unreasonable interference with the public's right to know. So far their protests have been ignored. Only political intervention will change the present impasse. Lyn Winters of Gloucester, Ontario, who wrote the article printed in Ancestry, suggests that concerned genealogists write to :
Dr. Ivan Fellegi, Chief Statistician (who decided not to deposit the records with the National Archives) 120 Parkdale Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6. E-mail address: email@example.com
The Hon. John Manley, PC, MP, (the Minister of Industry, to whom Statistics Canada reports) Address: The House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6. E- mail: Manley.J@parl.gc.ca
The Hon. Sheila Copps, PC, MP, (the Minister of Heritage, who needs to take this up with the above) Address: The House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6. E- mail: Copps.S@parl.gc.ca
If you write to the House of Commons from Canada you do not need to use a stamp, but if writing from the U.S. you will need to use $.46 for a half-ounce (one page) letter and $.52 for one ounce. Snail mail is harder to delete, Lyn Winters advises.
Would you post personal information about your family-like their birth dates and who they married and when-on the local grocery store's bulletin board? You wouldn't? Then don't post it on your home page on the World Wide Web-that's the world's bulletin board.
Carole Lane, the author of _Naked in Cyberspace: How to Find Personal Information Online_, published by Pemberton Press, 1997 $29.95.
Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG, who writes for Missing Links, another online newsletter, has been gathering information for a book and has explored many genealogists home pages. She declares that they are ■a pretty sight■for cyber thieves, that is. In our eagerness to share our family history material and utilize the power of the Internet we have forgotten that not everyone is honest.
Christine Gaunt, firstname.lastname@example.org, co-compiler of _Genealogy Resources on the Internet_ (http://www-personal.umich.edu/~cgaunt/gen_int1.html), shared some tips with Missing Links. Paraphrased, they are:
Don't post identifiers. Instead of saying that so-and-so
is your mother, say that you are researching the line of so-
and-so. Don't give birth dates and birthplaces of living
individuals. Don't post Social Security or Driver's License
numbers at all, ever.
- Be cautious about _cousins_ you meet online.
- Use a program such as GEDClean (see elsewhere in this issue) to remove information about living individuals from your database before sending it to someone else, or to any web site. Ask permission before sharing a GEDCOM you have received from someone else.
- Urge your credit card company or bank not to use Mom's maiden name as a password and ask for a PIN or other password instead. U.S. News & World Report recently posted an article on this subject at http://www.usnews.com/usnews/issue/980511/11mone.htm and there are some related items, including advice from the Social Security Administration on what to do if someone else uses your number.
The privacy battle is heating up. As genealogists, we want to be able to learn about our heritage and pass it on to our family members. But we will need to be very careful or others' rights to protect their identity and credit and also very active in championing our rights to access records of our deceased ancestors.
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