Despite the vague nature of the so-called identity theft crime, this buzz word is being used in a variety of circumstances to promote both commercial and political special interests. Where it impinges on the genealogical community is in the area of governmental restriction on the availability of vital records and other types of records. There is an unproven and unsupportable allegation that genealogists' access to some types of records is core cause of identity theft.
If you would like me to go back through the statistics yet again, I would be glad to do so, but I am certain that nothing has changed. Think about identity theft the next time you give your credit card to a server in a restaurant, not when you look at the Social Security Death Index.
So here we go again, using the boogy man of identity theft to limit genealogists' access to records. The Texas State Legislature has jumped on the identity theft bandwagon. Michael McCormick sent out the following notice:
TSGS LEGISLATION ALERT! - House Bill 3252 – Closing Birth and Death Records
House Bill 3252 by Representative John Zerwas (Fort Bend County) would close Texas birth records for 125 years and Texas death records for 50 years. Under current Texas law, birth and death records now become public information 75 years after a birth and 25 years after a death. Proponents of the bill believe that closing birth and death records for 125 and 50 years will prevent identity theft and fraud.
TSGS is actively opposing this legislation. Click here to read the full Legislation Alert.This type of legislation is nothing more or less than a chance to enhance the revenue of the state. It has nothing to do with identity theft. All this really means is that Texas can charge for the copies of its vital records for a longer period of time. I defy anyone to quote to me actual crime statistics from Texas that show any connection between the length of time vital records are closed and the incidence of use of those records in any crime!
Of course, Texas officials are concerned about identity theft. Here is an article called appropriately, Identity Theft, from the Attorney General of Texas, Greg Abbott. If you take the time to read the entire article, you might notice two things; first there is no mention of the definition of identity theft and second, if you have a problem you go to the Federal Trade Commission, not any Texas agency or even the police or sheriff. Isn't it strange that if identity theft is such an issue, that no Texas agency handles complaints?
Down the left-hand side of Attorney General Greg Abbott's website, there are a whole lot of crimes listed. Click on a few and you will see that he cites Texas law for many of the problems listed. Why not for Identity Theft? Because there is no commonly accepted definition of the crime.
One thing that is commonly done to enhance the appearance that identity theft is a huge problem is to include it with general statistics on fraud without breaking out the multitude of different acts classified as fraud. Who cites these vague statistics? Almost uniformly it is companies who are trying to sell you some sort of service to prevent identity theft which they would not be able to do if they cited accurate statistics.
If you buy into the statistical fraud that is used to promote the fear of identity theft, you can easily find documents such as this alarming "White Paper" called "Identity Theft in Texas" from an organization not well identified in the paper as "Identity Theft 911." Oh, guess what? They want to sell you identity theft protection services.
What do you do if you are a good genealogist? You look at the lack of sources or you check the sources to make sure the information is correct. Where did this company get its statistics? From Texas? Nope. From the Federal Trade Commission.
So where have I gone in the past when I write about this subject? To the Federal Trade Commission website? Well, yes but they don't compile crime statistics they compile complaints. How does the Federal Trade Commission define "identity theft?" Here is the quote, "Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission."
Before I get into another round of statistics to support my position, please start with this post I wrote not too long ago
Genealogy and Identity Theft
There is a real problem here. But limiting access to public records is not the cause and the problem is not going to be solved by extending the time limit on vital records protection by a state.