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How 9/11 and Identity Theft is Changing Online Genealogy

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    Last Updated: February 4th, 2009

    There have always been debates on the personal freedoms vs the right to personal privacy, and those aren’t going anywhere in the immediate future.
    Post 9/11 however they grew, and continue to do so, with nations all over the world debating whether your right to access public information should be halted.

    It was reported the in September 11 terrorist attacks the terrorists gained their documentation, drivers licenses and so on from information that they gleaned online. Further, since that time, the incidence of identity theft has increased dramatically.

    In the wake of this, many governments have decided to take down the public documentation that we have access to, effectively limiting the things we can view as genealogists, and in some cases, severely hampering our efforts to actively research an individual or a family.
    Many states and countries enacted legislation that make it far more difficult to gain access to records, even including birth, military, marriage and death records such as those we use on a day to day basis.

    You, as a genealogist, even an amateur one, may be simply caught in the middle of the conflict when it comes time for you to need that information.

    North Dakota is one of the latest to enact legislation making it a little more difficult for you to gain information about births and deaths and to order certificates of either. “Effective January 1, 2008, the Division of Vital Records will need proof of identity for all individuals requesting a birth or death certificate.  These new requirements are based on legislative changes that occurred during the 2007 North Dakota legislative session. The new changes restrict access to birth and death records as a preventative measure against identity theft and fraud.”


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    While the necessity to protect the public has to be weighed in, the freedom of information act and the need of researchers, historians and genealogists also has be be considered.

    While in the aftermath of 9/11, this was of course to be expected, the tendency to secure that information that we do need easy access to, doesn’t seem to have slowed down. Are fears affecting how easily we can access our governments records?

    Not only the United States, but other countries as well seem to have jumped in with their own closures, restricting our access to data that was previously considered a public record.

    Multiple U.S. states, among them both New Jersey and Wisconsin, have caused to be removed the cause of death from the  death certificates.

    The “Book of Icelanders,”  which is a database that was funded by DeCode Genetics,and listed each and every Icelandic person both alive today as well as all of their ancestors, and went back to nearly the 9th century, is now restricted.

    Iceland’s Parliament now restricts access to the genealogies. Researchers can  only access their own families within the database.

    Several genealogical organizations failed while attempting to halt the passage of new laws that were put into play in California, a legislation that severely restricted records that had, up until that point, been public information.

    For those who live in the US, you can help to prevent the loss of some of the important data that you require to continue your online research and to facilitate the work of beginning genealogists.

    Take the time to join your local and state genealogy societies and find a way to speak out to your legislators, to make your voice heard when the legislation in your state makes a move to privatize important documentation.

    Genealogy has become a great deal easier in recent years than it has ever been before due largely to the opening up of information on the internet that has kept us from having to either travel many miles or not have access to the information that we need.

    Let’s not step backward in time.

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