Legal Affairs

So Why Lock Up the Birth Records?

It seems that every week we hear of one more situations in which some politician or bureaucrat is trying to restrict access to public domain vital records. Everybody is trying to lock out everyone, including genealogists. Our right to access to public domain birth, marriage, and death information is being threatened constantly under the guise of “preventing identity theft.”

Balderdash!

(That’s as strong a word as I will use in this family-oriented publication.)

I am sure that the politicians love the limelight back home when they can brag that they have taken action to “prevent identity theft.” Heck, nobody is in favor of identity theft, right? Therefore, just proclaiming to have taken some token action under the smoke screen of “preventing identity theft” is sure to win a few more votes in the next election.

“Facts? What facts? Don’t bother me with facts, I’ve got a re-election campaign to win.”

Have Polish Ancestry? You may be Able to Obtain Polish (and European Union) Citizenship

Thanks to Poland’s liberal citizenship laws, thousands of people of Polish descent born in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Israel, South Africa and many other countries hold dual nationality and an EU passport. There are many advantages of having Polish citizenship now that Poland is a part of the European Union. With Polish citizenship, doors to living, studying and working in Europe are open.

A past article in the Australian Times states:

Your Comments are Requested Concerning an Interim Policy Concerning Forensic Genetic Genealogical DNA Analysis and Searching

The following is an IAJGS Public Records Access Alert:

I would encourage those who are interested in forensic genetic genealogy and law enforcement access to submit comments to forensicgenealogy@fbi.gov before November 1, when their interim policy becomes effective.

To read the interim policy go to:

U.S. Department of Justice, Interim Policy on Forensic Genetic Genealogical DNA Analysis and Searching (2019); https://www.justice.gov/olp/page/file/1204386/download

How can I Be Sure My ‘Re-print’ and ‘Use’ of Information in Newspaper Articles and Genealogy Books is ‘LEGAL?’

If you are planning on publishing information that was at least partially obtained from other publications, you need to read an article by Judy G. Russell, aka The Legal Genealogist, in her blog at: https://www.legalgenealogist.com/2019/10/10/the-history-in-the-news/.

It explains copyright issues in plain English. I saved the article in Evernote. You also could save it in OneNote or in any other application where it will be saved and easily findable in the future should you ever have questions about the copyrights involved with republishing.

The Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Sexual Assault Kit Task Force Pilot Program to Perform Genealogical Database Searches to Identify Rapists

Cuyahoga County will use a new federal grant to hire a private lab to conduct genealogical searches in hopes of identifying up to 10 “John Doe” rape suspects. Since 2013, the prosecutor’s office has secured 146 “John Doe” indictments based on DNA profiles found in rape kits that did not result in a hit or match identifying a suspect.

The genealogical pilot project will be paid for with a federal grant, which is one of two that total $3 million. The grants were awarded to the prosecutor’s office, which leads the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit Task Force, by the U.S. Department of Justice. The grants also will allow the task force to complete more than 1,200 sexual assault investigations that remain open, including paying for training, victim advocacy, research and travel expenses.

You can read more in an article by Rachel Dissell in The Plain Dealer web site at: https://tinyurl.com/eogn191002.

The Messy Consequences of DNA and the Golden State Killer Case

From an article by Sarah Zhang in the highly-respected The Atlantic web site:

“Tools meant to reunite families are now being used essentially to get families to put their members in jail.”

While few of us anticipated the intersection of genealogical DNA databases and police cases, many of us were intrigued when the combined efforts of law enforcement and a genealogist resulted in the identification of the suspected Golden State Killer last year. Now that precedent has opened the field to other cases, questions arise surrounding the ethical and legal aspects of these unforeseen applications.

Here are a few other quotes from the same article:

“Police officers were uploading crime-scene DNA to genealogical databases without any formal oversight, and prominent genealogists disagreed bitterly on how far they should be let in. The debate became so toxic that genealogy groups on Facebook banned any discussion of law enforcement. Decades-old accusations—unrelated to genealogy—were dragged up to discredit vocal members. People were blocked. Friendships ended. At a genealogy conference in June, the different sides ignored each other from opposite ends of the bar.”

U.S. Justice Department Sets Rules for Using Genealogy Sites to Solve Crimes

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has released new rules governing when police can use genetic genealogy to track down suspects in serious crimes—the first-ever policy covering how these databases, popular among amateur genealogists, should be used in law enforcement attempts to balance public safety and privacy concerns.

The policy generally limits law enforcement to considering genealogy sites when a candidate sample belongs to a possible culprit, or when a likely homicide victim is unidentified. Prosecutors can greenlight the use of these sites for violent crimes beyond murder and sexual assault, but only when the circumstances create a “substantial and ongoing threat” to the public. Agencies can’t use the sites unless a sample has first been uploaded to the FBI’s DNA profile database and hasn’t produced a match. Also, the investigators in the relevant jurisdiction need to have followed “reasonable investigative leads,” and case info need to be entered into national databases for missing people and violent criminals.

Utah Adds More Privacy to Family Information Submitted to Online Genealogy and DNA Web Sites

Utah is now a safe haven for digital privacy and a model for the rest of the country to emulate. In March, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed into law a first of its kind privacy bill, HB 57, which prevents law enforcement officials from obtaining user data from third-party providers such as genealogy sites, Google, or Facebook just by asking.

The new law says anyone who sends personal electronic information through a remote computing service — like the “cloud” — has a reasonable expectation of privacy. In order to access that data, the government must obtain a warrant.

Illinois Governor Signs Initiative to Protect Personal DNA Data

Illinois residents’ genetic testing results will now be protected under a new state law passed by state Senator Rachelle Crowe (D-Glen Carbon) and signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday.

“As technology advances, we have to update our laws to reflect ways it can be improperly used, and the personal data of private citizens is being used inappropriately every day,” Crowe said. “Keeping genetic information confidential is crucial to protecting a person’s right to privacy.”

Update: Reclaim The Records vs. Missouri

Reclaim The Records is well-known in genealogy circles as “that little non-profit activist group of genealogists, historians, teachers, journalists, open government advocates, and other troublemakers who fight for the release of historical and genealogical materials from government agencies, archives, and libraries.” For my past articles about the many successes of Reclaim The Records, see my previous articles by starting at: http://bit.ly/32CbvmV.

Reclaim The Records has now released a status report concerning its legal fight against a Missouri Sunshine Law case that was originally filed way back in November 2016 against the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Reclaim The Records is trying to get the first-ever public and free copies of the Missouri birth index for 1920(ish)-2015 and the Missouri death index for 1968-2015. The non-profit organization just filed for a Motion for Summary Judgment in the case, and wishes to bring everyone up to speed on what’s been going on.

You can read the update on the Reclaim The Records blog at: http://bit.ly/2Y5Ywqa.

Investigative Genealogy has now Cleared an Innocent Man of Murder

A man who spent 20 years behind bars after being wrongly convicted of rape and murder, making him the first wrongfully convicted person cleared of a crime through the use of investigative genealogy. Now experts in this emerging field say the technique could be used to exonerate others who may have also been wrongly convicted.

Details may be found in an article by Salvador Hernandez in the BuzzFeed News web site at: http://bit.ly/2xQh0jI.

Are You Unknowingly Forfeiting Your Genetic Privacy Rights?

From an article by Katherine M. Silverman, published in the Mondaq.com web site:

“The issue of genetic privacy is getting a lot of attention in the media lately, mainly due to the role DNA has played in identifying suspects in prominent “cold cases” like that of the Golden State Killer. But use of these “genetic genealogy” tools has raised concerns from privacy advocates who fear that genetic information shared on public genealogy databases could be misused. While “oversharing” personal information on social media has become par for the course, it’s important to think carefully about what information you’re publishing on the internet and who might have access to that information in the future.”

Also:

U.S. Supreme Court Blocks 2020 Census Citizenship Query

From an Associated Press news story:

“In two politically charged rulings, the Supreme Court dealt a huge blow Thursday to efforts to combat the drawing of electoral districts for partisan gain and put a hold on the Trump administration’s effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.”

You can read the full story at: http://bit.ly/31UpdRP.

For more information about the arguments that led up to today’s Supreme Court decision, see my earlier articles about this issue by starting at: http://bit.ly/2ZUtbI9.

My thanks to the several newsletter readers who wrote to tell me about today’s court decision.

Announcing the Coalition for Genetic Data Protection

TheHill.com reports, “Genetic testing companies are forming a new coalition on best practices for handling DNA information and to promote the industry in Washington as lawmakers put more scrutiny on their privacy practices.” The new organization’s plan is to create reasonable voluntary guidelines for DNA privacy before lawmakers create their own less palatable laws that benefit no one.

As of January, more than 26 million consumers have added their DNA to the four leading commercial ancestry and health databases, believed to be Ancestry, 23andMe, MyHeritage, and Family Tree DNA, according to MIT Technology Review. However, the recent use by law enforcement use of the databases that is contrary to the stated purposes of these genealogy databases has created a lot of controversy.

The Legal Power of Genealogy in Colonial America

By the time he was 18, George Washington was a competent genealogist — and he had to be. In Washington’s Virginia, family was a crucial determinant of social and economic status, and freedom.

How did Washington understand his family, and what can that tell us about the world in which he lived and played such a significant role? Thanks to a document long ignored by biographers and historians alike, we now know how fully he grasped the basic truth that genealogy is power.

Prince Edward Island Government to Open Up Adoption Records in Fall

Prince Edward Island’s Minister of Social Development and Housing said the province will be bringing forward legislation in the fall to make adoption records more freely available.

Currently, only non-identifying information regarding adoptions are made available to adopted adult children or birth parents of adopted children, unless both parties consent to the release of identifying information. However, the province’s consultation report proposed more open access to records but also recommended individuals have options for vetoing the ability of grown adopted children or birth parents to have access to their information.

3 Arrested in France for Looting the Archives of Libraries Throughout Europe

The following is a press release from Europol:

With the support of Europol, the French National Police (OCBC – National Unit in charge of Cultural goods trafficking) and the Spanish Guardia Civil (UCO) have dismantled an organised crime group suspected of stealing maps in the archival collections of libraries throughout Europe.

On 20 May, 6 properties were searched simultaneously in France and Spain and 3 suspects arrested. 3 vehicles and €6 000 in cash have also been seized.

How Your Privacy Will Be Protected in the 2020 Census

Every ten years the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a nationwide survey that sets the terms for the country’s democracy. The questionnaire yields rich data, including people’s names, street addresses, ages, races, ethnicities, and other details. People’s responses help determine dynamics of power, such as how seats are apportioned in the House of Representatives, where voting districts get divided, and which communities receive federal funds.

But the bureau, tasked with releasing summaries of the results while simultaneously protecting people’s privacy, faces a Catch-22. “Every time you publish a statistic you leak information about that confidential database,” as Simson Garfinkel, a computer scientist with the bureau, told a Census advisory committee in May.

You can learn all about the privacy procedures of the 2020 U.S. Census in an article by Robert Hackett and an accompanying video in the Fortune web site at: http://fortune.com/2019/05/25/census-security-privacy/.

The Reasons Why GEDmatch Recently Changed Its Terms of Service

GEDmatch is a popular genealogy web site that contains more than 1.2 million completed DNA kits. It was used by many genealogists and, more recently, by law enforcement officials, most of whom were working on “cold cases” involving violent crimes, such as rape and murder. Use of GEDmatch first helped solve the so-called Golden State Killer case last April through a new forensic technique known as genetic genealogy. That case was soon followed by a number of other identification of the perpetrators of past crimes.

However, there was one problem: GEDMatch’s own terms of service didn’t allow police to use the site for assault cases or any other crimes that involve less serious crimes. Even worse, legal issues arose because the site did not have the informed consent of its users to make an exception to the terms of service.

GEDmatch Implements Required Opt-In for Law Enforcement Matching

GEDmatch is an open data personal genomics database and genealogy website founded in 2010 by Curtis Rogers and John Olson. Its main purpose is to help “amateur and professional researchers and genealogists,” including adoptees searching for birth parents. However, it recently has also become “the de facto DNA and genealogy database for all of law enforcement,” according to The Atlantic’s Sarah Zhang.

GEDmatch recently gained a lot of publicity after it was used by law enforcement officials to identify a suspect in the Golden State Killer case in California. Other law enforcement agencies started using GEDmatch for violent crimes, making it one of the most powerful tools available for identifying “cold case” criminals.

Sadly, the same site also has generated a lot of controversy involving the lack of privacy of personal DNA information, both for the people who uploaded their own DNA data and especially for the relatives of the uploaders whose DNA information also was included without their permission and usually without their knowledge. Such blatant disregard for personal privacy may be a violation of privacy laws in many countries.

The GEDmatch owners have now tightened the web site’s rules on privacy. The result is expected to make it much more difficult for law enforcement agencies to find suspects.