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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Immediate Call to Action re: Birth and Death Records

During the past few years, there have been several attempts both successful and unsuccessful, to limit public access to genealogically important records. As shown above, in the Reclaim the Records Newsletter, the New York City Department of health is proposing strict new rules for obtaining copies of both birth and death records. Here is a copy of the call for comments:
Hello again, from Reclaim The Records! We're back with an uncharacteristically short but very important newsletter. This time, it's unfortunately not an announcement of new records for us all to use, but a warning about a serious threat to existing records.
The New York City Department of Health has proposed strict new rules that would severely limit the ability of anyone, even perfectly law-abiding genealogists, to gain access to old New York City vital records. These proposed rules are stricter than almost anywhere else in America, and would be devastating to anyone researching New York City ancestors or collateral lines.
But there's something you can do to help stop this. Right now, from your home computer, you can click this link and read the proposed rule changes on the Department's website. Then scroll to the bottom, click "register" and log in, and then post your public comments, which will be sent directly to the New York City Department of Health. If you live in New York, make sure to mention that in your comment.
The deadline to submit your comments is 5 PM Eastern time on Tuesday, October 24, 2017. For most of you reading this with your morning coffee, that's today! So please don't delay, and submit your comments right away, before 5 PM.
And if you're in or near New York City, there's something else you can do. Show up at this address between 10:00 AM and noon on Tuesday, and give your comment in person -- or just lend your support to the genealogy community:New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
Gotham Center
42-09 28th Street, 3rd Floor, Room 3-32
Long Island City, 11101
Reclaim The Records will be in attendance, along with many other groups representing the open records community and the New York genealogy community. We'd love to see you there too.
So go, click that link and leave your comment! And we'll save you a seat if you can make it to the meeting.
We'll let you know how it goes.
Here is my comment to the proposed rule change (I am quoting myself).
As a practicing trial attorney for 39 years and a genealogist for more than 35 years, I am deeply concerned about the changes in the General Vital Statistics Provisions (Article 207 of the NYC Health Code) regarding Birth and Death Records. Both the proposed time periods for death and birth records are unnecessarily excessive. The general references in the supporting information to "privacy" concerns and possible instances of identity theft are totally unsupported by either facts or reality. All of the information contained in both birth and death records is easily obtainable from presently available public records online. As an attorney, for a very small fee, I could obtain the information available in both birth and death records from multiple online companies who specialize in supplying such information. For example, most doctor's offices require much more information than is supplied by either certificate to obtain the services of a doctor. Targeting these two records serves no purposes. Restricting the availability of death records such as the recent restrictions on the availability of the Social Security Death Index, in fact, opens more opportunities for fraud rather than restricting such actions. Extending the time periods and adding restrictions to these particular records is motivated by the desire of the government agencies to enhance a revenue stream obtained from selling copies of these records to family members who are required to provide these documents for a variety of purposes. I see no reasons for extending the time periods for either of the two types of records. 
I might add that instances where either death or birth information have been used for fraudulent purposes include unsupported claims to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for tax exemptions or refunds. But in these cases, the restrictions on the public availability of birth or death certificates is not the problem. The real problem is these cases is the lack of internal controls by the IRS. For example, the IRS could check to see if the people claimed as living deductions were dead and whether or not the person claiming a live exemption was actually related to the person claimed.

In this case, the New York City Department of Health is trying to extend the available time periods to 125 years for birth certificates and 75 years for death certificates.

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