With Hard Data Governor Baker Gets Schooled
Updated: Jan 23
The 2021 Massachusetts budget bill submitted by Governor Charlie Baker contains an Outside Section (submitted as House 2) and within it are thirteen small sections that would overturn more than 380 years of records access in Massachusetts.
Why in the world would Baker do this? It appears that Dr. Monica Bharel, the state's commissioner of public health, told him this is what we need to do to stop consumer identity theft.
But do we? The truthful answer is No. The Federal Trade Commission and the FBI track identity theft by state. Genealogists Alec Ferretti and Alex Calzareth from New York City graphed ID theft against how long vital records are closed. The result? Embarrassing for the governor. Not only is there very little effect, but the effect is negative. Hard data from the federal government shows that the longer a state closes vital records, the more likely it is to have higher consumer ID theft.
The research for this graph is available online. The ID theft data is from https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/consumer-sentinel-network and the graph is at https://github.com/ReclaimTheRecords/vital-records-data/blob/master/Vital%20Records%20Graph.pdf. Plenty of hard data to show that whoever whispered in Gov. Baker's ear that closing records was a good idea wasn't doing him any favors at all.
In fact, we at MGC were so upset at this misrepresentation that we sent Gov. Baker a letter.
If you want to learn more about this legislation, check out our Call to Action.
The Honorable Charlie Baker, Governor State House – Room 280 24 Beacon Street Boston, Massachusetts 02133
Re: Opposition to Outside Sections 12, 13, 36-46, and 62 of House Bill 2, “An Act Making Appropriations...”
Dear Governor Baker,
Massachusetts Genealogical Council is an umbrella organization of sixteen genealogy societies within Massachusetts. We represent tens of thousands of individual genealogists in the Commonwealth, who are all alarmed about this legislation. Our members are startled that this change is folded into HR2’s Outside Section.
Outside Sections 12, 13, 36-46, and 62 of the budget bill are a misguided attempt to (1) overturn 380 years of legislation in 13 hidden paragraphs; and (2) wrong about where privacy is violated and how consumer identity theft takes place.
It is NOT a national norm for vital records access. Far from it. The 2011 Model Act on which it is based has only been passed in a handful of states. The designers of that act within the National Association of Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS) are now in a committee to produce a 2020 Model Act that cuts suggested closure periods by more than half. Why? Because FBI crime statistics show clearly that states with longer closure periods have similar identity theft rates to those with open records. The parts of the 2011 Model Act that were pertinent to Massachusetts were enacted a few years ago through a bill submitted by the Town Clerks Association. It did not include language to close records.
The reasoning provided in the budget to enact these sections is to protect the privacy of Massachusetts residents. No hard data is offered to support this point-of-view. In fact, hard data from the FTC provides just the opposite message. In graphing consumer identity theft against vital records closure periods, they find a nearly flat line. There literally is no correlation. Consumer identity theft is not lowered through closing vital records. (Graph attached.)
Several states have introduced internet privacy bills that would provide more protection for their citizens than this Massachusetts budget would.
I’ve been tracking government actions related to vital records access since 2000. In every session there has been a bill submitted to close all vital records since 1841. These bills have never made it out of committee. In other words, each time such a bill has come in through the front door, it has gone nowhere. This session saw a back-door approach. Hidden in the Outside Section of your budget bill are thirteen sections that comprise a bill to close vital records access for 90 years for birth and marriage records and for 50 years for death records. These proposed provisions should not be in the final budget bill.
The Massachusetts citizens who do genealogy, research DNA donors to identify the remains of servicemen lost in previous wars, provide medical pedigrees for primary healthcare providers, and enjoy the wonders of this family-uniting avocation, deserve to be at the table when these types of draconian restrictions are suggested. Remember us the next time someone whispers inaccuracies in your ear.
Barbara J. Mathews, CG, FASG, President Massachusetts Genealogical Council firstname.lastname@example.org