Legal Affairs

More on USCIS Proposes Fee Increases for Genealogy Records

The following announcement was written by Jan Meisels Allen, Chairperson of the IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee, and originally was posted to the IAJGS Public Records Access Alert message list. It is also republished here withJan’s permission:

On November 15, I posted to this forum [see https://blog.eogn.com/2019/11/15/uscis-proposes-fee-increases-for-genealogy-records/] about the proposed fee increase by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for genealogical files. USCIS proposes a raise in its two Genealogy Program fees from $65 to $240 and $385 and possibly more if you require paper copies. These are a 269 percent and 492 percent change respectively (if I did my math correctly). While I wrote only about the genealogy fee increase in the 92 page proposed rule there are other immigration fees being increased.

A coalition of genealogists, historians and records access advocates have created a portal about this with suggestions. Please see: https://www.recordsnotrevenue.com/

This is an uphill battle and only with thousands of comments submitted will we have a chance to change these proposed fees.

Have You Claimed the Most Valuable Asset your Ancestors Passed Down to You?

Simon Black writes the SovereignMan blog. He is a political and financial conservative and writes about all sorts of topics. I read most of his articles and find that I agree with some of his articles and strongly disagree with some others. However, this week he wrote an article that may interest many people with immigrant ancestors who arrived in the U.S. within the past 2 or 3 generations. I don’t consider this particular article to be either conservative or liberal. Instead, it simply describes the facts.

In Have you claimed the most valuable asset your ancestors passed down to you?, Simon Black writes about the legitimate ways of obtaining a second passport. Having a second passport will allow you to travel or even live in the country that issued the passport. This can greatly expand your options to live and even be employed in another country. These passports are not available from all countries but several countries do offer “citizenship by descent and means that you could be eligible to get a second passport at almost no cost if you have parents, grandparents, or in some cases even great grandparents who came from a number of countries which offer citizenship to the descendants of their citizens.”

With most second passports, you do not need to give up your American passport or citizenship. Having a second passport simply provides you with more options. Many people already possess dual passports.

Simon Black writes:

USCIS Proposes Fee Increases for Genealogy Records

The following message was posted to the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies,  (IAJGS) mailing list by Jan Meisels Allen and is republished here with her permission:

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced through the Federal Register that they intend to increase the request fees charged by them, including for genealogy services.  Currently, the G-1041 Index Search Request is $65 and form G-1041A Genealogy Records Request is $65. The USCIS proposes to raise the fees to $240 and $385 respectively.  These are a 269 percent and 492 percent change respectively (if I did my math correctly).  They are based on the projected costs and volumes of the genealogy program. The search fee is non-refundable if nothing is found in their search. The projected costs include a portion of Lockbox costs and an estimated staffing requirement for genealogy workload.

23andMe’s Stance on Protecting Customers’ Data

The following is from an article by Kathy Hibbs, 23andMe’s Chief Legal and Regulatory Officer, as published in the company’s blog:

“A Florida judge recently issued a warrant granting law enforcement access to search the database of GEDmatch, a small publicly accessible DNA and genealogy research site. Allowing law enforcement access to GEDmatch’s nearly one million users should trouble anyone who values people’s right to privacy.

“It certainly troubles us here at 23andMe.

“Perhaps just as disturbing is GEDmatch’s apparent lack of scrutiny and challenge of the validity of the warrant issued.

Warrant Issued Permitting Police Full Access to GEDmatch Database

I bet this issue gets debated in the courts before long!

The following announcement was posted to the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) mailing list by Jan Meisels Allen and is republished here with her permission:

Accessing public DNA databases to find a potential familial match for a criminal act such as murder or rape started in April 2018 when California police used GEDmatch to identify someone whom they believe is the Golden State Killer. Since then there have been many law enforcement agencies that applied the same method to their own cases. Private DNA testing firms such as 23andMe, Ancestry, MyHeritage, etc. have pledged to keep their client’s genetic information private, and GEDmatch, a public site restricted police access earlier this year, by requiring the use to opt-in for law enforcement access to their genetic information.

Last week a detective in Florida announced at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference convention that he was successful to “penetrate” GEDmatch and search its full database of almost one million users. It appears to be the first time a judge approved such a warrant. With a court overruling the company’s policy may be a game changer for those who upload their genetic information to such a site. Remember, when you are sharing your genetic information, that encompasses not only your own personal information, but those family members who share your DNA. It is anticipated that a similar approach will be used to see if law enforcement may access the larger private genetic databases.

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.