privacy laws

Prepared by Elisabeth Lindsay.

Privacy laws or policies limit the amount of information that can be collected or given on individuals, especially those who are living. Privacy laws may exist at any level of government, in any country. Privacy laws in the past were aimed at limiting what information a government could collect on an individual and how that information might be used. Today, privacy laws are aimed a governing a person's public and personal information against those who would use such information to commit fraud, especially in today's technological world. As a result, security has become a major issue and privacy laws are becoming more widespread and restrictive.

Privacy laws do have an impact on genealogy, limiting access to public records, sometimes removing access to records that were previously available, except for those who can prove they have a right to the information. In the past, some states were considered "privacy states," with tight restrictions, but the practice is growing and restriction is now the rule, rather than the exception. In general, birth records are restricted for 100 years from the date of the event, death records for 50 years, and marriage records, for 25 years, more or less, depending on the location. Internet data providers are controlled by those who own the collections, who in turn may be controlled by state or local law. Restrictions and time periods may vary. Some laws or policies restrict access to indexes, as well as documents. Privacy laws have also affected the practice of providing genealogy "look-ups," as access to data is restricted. Privacy laws bring into question what is meant by "public records," and yet, there is no easy answer to the problem of identify fraud and scams, and the debate continues.

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