Under U.S. laws, dead people have no legal rights to privacy although living people do. That is why U.S. census records are sealed for 72 years: the average expectancy of American adults at the time that decision was made was 72 years.
(Don't ask about the 50% who live longer than the average; this decision was made by a governmental bureaucrat, so normal logic does not apply.)
Writing in the Government Computer News, Washington privacy and information policy consultant Robert Gellman describes a recent shift in the interpretation of U.S. laws in light of a court decision.
Vince Foster was a Clinton White House aide who committed suicide. News organizations asked for pictures of the body as taken at the scene and afterwards by federal investigators, citing "public interest" as the reason why the photographs should be released. As Foster was deceased, one would believe that he and his heirs had no right to stop the release of the photographs. However, Foster's heirs cited a recent Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which provides that the right of privacy in health information lasts beyond death until "the end of the universe." The court agreed and blocked the release of the photographs.
While this issue revolved around photographs and a recent suicide, Robert Gellman points out that it sets a precedent that may have far-reaching effects on all sorts of government and private records, especially if a health issue is involved. Death certainly qualifies as a "health issue." Gellman does not mention genealogy, but it is easy to speculate that overzealous public officials could twist the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act into an excuse to lock up various public records until "the end of the universe."
This interesting article may be found at in Government Computer News.
My thanks to newsletter reader Karen Stuart for telling me about the article.