The following is a guest article written by Kenneth Edwin Zimmerman and Elaine Obbink Zimmerman. It is published here with the permission of the authors:
The following is an example where an organization did not use the best practices to protect the “Privacy of Living Individuals” in a publication.
The publication The Society of the War of 1812 in Maryland Compiled by C. Louis Raborg Jr., Registrar, Custom Printing and Finishing, June 2011. The publication contains the following data taken from its member’s application:
If a Society is collecting data on its members then it should disclose the intended use. The potential for the commercial use of the data should be disclosed. Prior to publishing or releasing any data; members and/or their spouse’s shall provide written permission to a Society or organization.
- Maryland Membership #
- Members Full Name
- National Membership #
- Date of Membership
- SAR National Membership #
- Members Date of Birth
- Members Marriage Date
- Spouse Full Name and her Date of Birth
- Children of Member Full Name with their Date of Birth (to include minors who are under the age of 21)
- Spouses Parents Full Names
- Members Parents Full Names with their Date of Birth and Marriage Date, Date of Death
- Full Name and Date of Birth, Marriage Date and Date of Death for member’s lineage down to, and including, the War of 1812 Ancestor.
- Affidavit of 1812 Service
In this day of rampant identity theft, the family details that are revealed in the membership application of the publication, along with a few account numbers could result in a disastrous financial loss for anyone. Clever thieves using information and tools available on the Internet and in possession of this publication could steal a person’s identity. Some information could defame, embarrass, harm, or threaten the privacy of any living individuals in your family tree. When you publish information about someone, you potentially expose yourself to legal liability even if your portrayal is factually accurate.
Ancestry World Family Tree, FamilySearch, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR), National Society Sons of the American Revolution (NSSAR), National Genealogical Society and other genealogical/ hereditary organizations to ensure the privacy of its members adheres to this policy of not listing personal data for any person under 100 years old unless a death date is provided. The same should apply when publishing a family history. In order to ensure privacy of its members the Societies and organizations should only publish the names, genders, membership number and family links of any living individuals.
There are laws concerning publication of some details of a person's private life (medical information, etc.), the statements of birth, marriage, and death have always been public domain and remain so today. While the trend is to encourage privacy in all facts of life this is not backed up by legislative action. There are no laws prohibiting the publications of names, dates, and places.
The intent of this letter is to alert participants and organizations who are considering the use of personal information for any purpose.
Kenneth Edwin Zimmerman (Member in Society of the War of 1812 in Maryland)
Elaine Obbink Zimmerman
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