Legal Affairs

DNA Testing by the Canadian Government to aid Deportations Leaves Plenty of Room for Misinterpretation and Mistreatment

The Canada Border Services Agency recently has been collecting the DNA of immigrants and using a genealogy DNA website to find and contact their distant relatives and establish their nationality.

Border security has become a political hot potato with the arrival on foot from the United States of 30,000 asylum seekers since January 2017, putting strains on Canada’s refugee system and provoking a public backlash. Most of the refugees being refused entry are not U.S. citizens escaping the political turmoil south of the Canadian-U.S. border. Instead, most are originally from other countries, often ones that do not have extensive records of their own citizens’ births or other vital statistics.

Canada announced last week it was expanding the collection of biometrics such as fingerprints and photos for refugee claimants, individuals facing extradition, and foreign nationals seeking a temporary resident visa, work permit, or study permit. CBSA claims it always obtains consent from the individual before submitting their DNA to these websites.

Reclaim The Records wins a Legal Request for the New Jersey Death Index

Thanks to the efforts of Brooke Schreier Ganz and Reclaim The Records, all of the New Jersey death index records for about half of 1920-1924, all of 1925-1929, and then from 1949 to 2017 are now available online. That is despite an earlier request by a different organization that “…tried to get a copy of the very same death index from the New Jersey Department of Health on his own. Oh no, said an attorney for the state to [you], we can’t just give you a copy of the death index! Why, we have rules about mortality data, and privacy!”

Reclaim The Records took a different approach by hiring an attorney and filing a similar request under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA). The request was soon filled without resistance by the state. The information supplied is an INDEX, not images of the original records.

Best of all, it’s now all online for free at!

You can read more in the report by Brooke Schreier Ganz at

U.S. Census Should Be More Transparent About Cyber Protections, Former Officials Say

The U.S. Census Bureau will conduct its first largely online decennial census in 2020 but hasn’t said how it will secure the process. The U.S. Census Bureau should detail for the American people how it will secure their information as it prepares to accept online questionnaires for the first time during the 2020 decennial survey, former top government cyber officials said Monday.

That should include technical details about how the bureau will encrypt questionnaires and whether it will encrypt them both in transit and once they’ve arrived in government computer networks, the former officials said in a letter organized by a division of Georgetown University’s Law Center.

Details are available in an article by Joseph Marks in the Route Fifty web site. Click here to read it.

(US) Census Comments Invited on Proposed Information Collection 2020 US Census

The following message was posted to the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) mailing list by Jan Meisels Allen, Chairperson of the IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee:

The (US) Federal Register published on June 8, 2018 an invitation to the public to submit comments on proposed information collection for the US 2020 Census. Comments must be received by August 7, 2018.

Concern is that there not be an undercount of people living in different areas—cities, towns, rural areas as that results in the loss of federal funds. The undercounts may affect children, minorities including Asian Americans, Latinos, African Americans. American Indians and Alaska Natives, homeless, low incomes and people of Middle Eastern descent.

A major concern to some, and one which is the subject of several law suits is the addition of a question on citizenship which may deter some from responding. This has been discussed in previous IAJGS Record Access Alerts.

You Can Inherit Facebook Content Like a Letter or Diary, German Court Rules

A German court ruled Thursday that Facebook content can be passed onto heirs in the same manner as letters, books, or diaries are passed on today. The ruling comes after the parents of a teenager who died in 2012 after being hit by a train argued Facebook should allow them to access her account, including her private messages, to determine whether she committed suicide.

You can learn more at

Keep in mind that this is a decision by a German court. It probably will not affect the rules in other countries. Instead, you might want to think about what happens to your Facebook account (and other accounts as well) after your demise.


Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington Presses the U.S. National Archivist on Record Preservation

A nonprofit legal watchdog on Friday asked the national archivist to investigate the reported disappearance and destruction of records linking immigrant families separated at the border.

The request was prompted by a July 5 New York Times report, which said that Customs and Border Protection officials had deleted records with family identification numbers in hundreds of cases, according to two Department of Homeland Security officials who spoke to the Times anonymously.

DHS spokeswoman Katie Waldman denied that the agency had destroyed any such records.

Court Rules Copying Photos Found on Internet is Fair Use

This ruling will affect many genealogists who are building or are maintaining web sites:

A Virginia federal court has made a decision that photographers won’t be happy to hear: the court ruled that finding a photo on the Internet and then using it without permission on a commercial website can be considered fair use.

Genealogists Turn to DNA and Family Trees to Crack Five More Cold Cases

A few weeks ago, any mention of using DNA matches to identify long-unsolved murders created headlines around the world. This crime-solving technique has become popular so quickly that it might not even rate a mention in today’s newspapers. It’s happening everywhere!

An article by Heather Murphy in the New York Times briefly mentions 4 murders and one suicide that have produced new evidence in the past few days from‘s DNA matching service. The same article also prominently describes the efforts of CeCe Moore, a genetic genealogist now working with Parabon, a forensic consulting firm, and a person well-known to genealogists who use DNA in their family tree research efforts.

You can read the article at:

Reclaim the Records Petitions the State of New York to Explain Why the New York State Department of Health Grants Access to Public Records to and yet Denies Access to the same records by Reclaim the Records

Reclaim the Records, an open-government group, has asked a judge to put sunlight on the’s correspondence with public officials in New York. The petition may be found at

Filed on June 21, 2018, the petition in Albany Supreme Court comes from the nonprofit Reclaim the Records and its founder, Brooke Schreier Ganz. Only the New York State Department of Health is named as a respondent, but neither that agency nor agreed to comment.

Ganz says she submitted a request to the Department of Health in January 2016 for copies of the New York state death index between Dec. 31, 1956, and June 1880, or the earliest date available. The State of New York did not answer her request. Yet, while she was waiting for a response from her 2016 request, Ganz says the same agency produced “digitized records of the New York State Death Index to in under three months.”

You can read all the details in an article by Christine Stuart in the Courthouse News web site at:


One Month Into GDPR – What The Effect Has Been

The following is a message posted to the IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee’s mailing list by Jan Meisels Allen:

It’s just past one month since the General Data Protection Regulation went into effect in the European Union. These are some of the things that occurred as a result of the GDPR:

1. The cessation of some genealogical data bases from being on the Internet:

  • 450,000 Records Removed From Online Access at Dutch Archives—such as the Tilburg Regional Archive online family cards collection dating from 1920-1940; other branches including Amsterdam, Alkmaar, Eemland and more have removed data from the Internet.
  • World Famous Network Y-DNA project ceased operation
  • Y-Search and Mitosearch projects of FamilyTree DNA were closed the end of May. While the announcement did not state they were closing due to the GDPR, the timing is at least “curious.”

Vermont Legislature Passes H-16 on Birth and Death Records

The following is a message posted to the IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee’s mailing list by Jan Meisels Allen:

On June 25, 2018 the Vermont Senate and House concurred on the final version of H-16. It is en route to the governor who has until Saturday to sign the bill or it becomes law without his signature. The vital records provisions of the new law will become effective July 1, 2019.

Provisions of the law regarding vital records include:

Town clerks are required to permanently preserve birth and death certs issued before July 1, 2019. Birth and death certificates issued either before July 1, 2019 or after, are part of the State Registration system unless they were issued before 1909. The new “law” authorizes non-certified birth certificates. The “law” limits to whom a certified birth or death certificate may be given to: spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, or guardian; a person petitioning to open a decedent’s estate; a court-appointed executor or administrator For death certs it also has provisions for the funeral director etc. to obtain the record. It authorizes but  does not state who may obtain a non-certified certificate.  It does state that the State Registrar may prescribe procedures governing the inspection of birth and death certificates if necessary to protect the integrity of the certificates or to prevent fraud.

June is Immigrant Heritage Month

From the U.S.House (of Representatives) Resolution 606:

Introduced May 29, 2014

Sponsored by: Ms. Linda T. Sánchez of California (for herself, Mr. Cárdenas, Mr. Gutiérrez, Ms. Lee of California, Ms. Jackson Lee, Mr. Rangel, Mr. Costa, Mr. Grijalva, Mrs. Napolitano, Ms. Waters, Mr. Honda, Ms. Roybal-Allard, Ms. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, Mr. Lowenthal, Ms. Titus, Mr. Polis, Ms. Lofgren, Mr. Swalwell of California, Mr. Al Green of Texas, Mr. Heck of Washington, Mr. Hinojosa, and Mr. Veasey) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

Recognizing the month of June as Immigrant Heritage Month in honor of the accomplishments and role of immigrants in shaping the history and culture of the United States.

Whereas the entrepreneurial drive and spirit of our country is built on our diversity of origins;

Whereas it is what drew the first people to the U.S. and what continues to drive American business;

Whereas American success is a result of our many distinct experiences, not in spite of it;

Whereas America has always been a nation of immigrants, and throughout the nation’s history, immigrants from around the globe have kept our workforce vibrant, our businesses on the cutting edge, and helped to build the greatest economic engine in the world;

How to Prepare your Google Account for When You Pass Away

I have written before about Who Will Handle your Facebook Page After You Are Gone? (see and What to do with Your Genealogy Collection When You Downsize or Die  (see Now Jerry Hildenbrand has written a similar article about all your information on Google: GMail, Google Photos, Google Drive, Google Pay, and more.

Hildenbrand tells how to use Google’s Inactive Account Manager. It allows you to be very specific about what is done with your digital information after your account has been inactive for a set length of time.

A New DNA Case Results in the Arrest of a Person for Two Murders in 1987

A Washington state trucker who authorities say was linked by DNA evidence to the 1987 deaths of a young Canadian couple has been charged with two counts of aggravated first-degree murder. William Earl Talbott II, 55, of SeaTac was charged Friday in Snohomish County (Washington) Superior Court. Talbott is charged in the killings of 18-year-old Tanya Van Cuylenborg and 20-year-old Jay Cook.

Authorities say they used information from public genealogy websites to pinpoint Talbott as a suspect then arrested him after getting a DNA sample from a cup that fell from his truck. Police say the genealogist used information uploaded by distant cousins to narrow their search to Talbott.

You can read more about the case in an article by Caleb Hutton in the Herald.Net at

My thanks to the several newsletter readers who told me about this latest arrest.

DNA: Heredity or Hoax?

Don’t believe everything you read. In fact, don’t believe everything you pay for either.

In Canada, there are major benefits to being able to prove Aboriginal People ancestry.

NOTE: Aboriginal People is one term for what we used to call native North American Indians or Eskimos although those terms have recently been replaced with Native Canadians or Aboriginal Canadians. See for a list of some of the benefits of Aboriginal Canadian ancestry.

It seems that one Toronto-based laboratory that tests people’s DNA to determine their ancestry has been caught providing “proof” of such ancestry, even when the DNA doesn’t prove it. The scam was caught when one Canadian became suspicious and submitted a DNA sample from his girlfriend’s dog for analysis.

The results from DNA testing company Viaguard Accu-Metrics “proved” that Snoopy the Chihuahua has 20 per cent Native American ancestry: 12 per cent Abenaki and eight per cent Mohawk.

Reclaim The Records wins a Third Lawsuit; NYC Marriage Index for 1996-2017 is now Online

One more victory for Reclaim The Records!

Brooke Schreier Ganz of Reclaim The Records fought the New York City Clerk’s Office and won 1.5 million genealogy records, and also won reimbursement of her attorneys’ fees! The records are now online, freely searchable and/or downloadable.

Details may be found at: and and

How a Legal Brawl Between Two Rich Guys Could Change How We Think About DNA

Warning: I had to read this article several times before I understood it. To say it is a twisted tale is an understatement. I am still not certain I understand all of it. The story involves a lawsuit that could only happen in Florida. Yet it could also set a precedent that will alter laws about DNA nationwide.

Toronto businessman Harold Peerenboom and Marvel Entertainment chairman Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter were locked in an absurd suburban skirmish, bickering over who should run the tennis center at Sloan’s Curve, the exclusive Palm Beach waterfront community where both men resided. The legal battle took a rather unexpected turn when the lawyers for Peerenboom surreptitiously obtained a DNA sample from a water bottle that both Mr. and Mrs. Perlmutter had used inside the courtroom.

In 2016, the Perlmutters countersued Peerenboom, his attorney, and the forensic lab for “conversion.” Conversion is roughly the civil court equivalent of theft. The Perlmutters were alleging that Peerenboom and his attorney had effectively stolen their DNA and the information contained within the DNA sample.

Small Genealogy Website GEDmatch ‘Never Expected’ Its Criminal-Catching Use

From an article by Sarah Zhang in The Atlantic:

“Ever since investigators revealed that a genealogy website led police to arrest a man as California’s notorious Golden State Killer, interest in using genealogy to solve crimes has exploded. DNA from more than 100 crime scenes has been uploaded to the same genealogy site. A second man, linked to a double murder in Washington state, has been arrested. This is likely only the beginning.”


Genealogy Databases and the Future of Criminal Investigation

Science Magazine has published a thought-provoking article about the use of public DNA databases by the use of law enforcement officials. The introduction to the article by Natalie Ram, Christi J. Guerrini, and Amy L. McGuire states:

“The search of a nonforensic database for law enforcement purposes has caught public attention, with many wondering how common such searches are, whether they are legal, and what consumers can do to protect themselves and their families from prying police eyes. Investigators are already rushing to make similar searches of GEDmatch in other cases, making ethical and legal inquiry into such use urgent.”

The article also considers issues that seem to violate the U.S. Constitution, such as the following:

New York City Board of Health Adopts Amendment to Article 207 Expanding Those Who May Access Birth and Death Records Without Embargo Periods

The following message was written by Jan Meisels Allen, Chairperson, International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) Public Records Access Monitoring Committee, and republished here with her permission:

The IAJGS Records Access Alert reported in March about a proposed amendment to Article 207 of the New York City Health Code allowing certain direct descendants and other family members to access the birth and death records of their deceased relatives prior to the records becoming public. The New York City Department of Health held a hearing on April 23, the deadline for all comments. See:

On June 4, 2018 the New York City Board of Health held a meeting where they unanimously passed the proposal. However, rather than become effective in 30 days, New York City Registrar, Steven Schwartz, Ph.D. requested implementation be delayed until the end of 2018 giving the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene time to update procedures, update the website and required staff training. Forms will have to be updated and a new procedure for proof of relationship through an attestation or notarized form will have to be developed. No comments as to when that process will be available prior to the end of the year, or whether the new process will be subject to a public hearing before adoption.