The ToddHouse Twitter feed
alerted me to an article
on the Lewiston Sun Journal
Concerns about fraud and identity theft are prompting Maine lawmakers to consider a bill to restrict the release of residents' birth and marriage records.
The Health and Human Services Committee was told Wednesday that Maine is just one of 11 states that allow public inspection of birth records and provides certified copies to anyone who requests them. Maine marriage records are also open to the public.
would make it much harder for genealogists to trace their families. The proposed changes would "protect" vital records from public inspection for 100 years:
After 100 years from the date of birth for birth certificates, after 100 years from the date of death for fetal death certificates and death certificates, after 100 years from the date of marriage for marriage certificates and after 100 years from the registration of domestic partnerships, any person may obtain informational copies of these vital records in accordance with the department's rules.
Town clerks would be allowed to publish basic details of deaths and marriages within their jurisdictions, but access to the full, original records would otherwise be limited to a person's "spouse, registered domestic partner, descendants, parents or guardians" or an authorized attorney. Want to see your bachelor great-uncle's 1927 death record? Sorry, you'll have to wait 17 years.
The first impulse of legislatures is always to restrict access, and once restricted access is rarely expanded. I doubt any evidence of widespread "fraud and identity theft" was presented at today's hearing, because identity thieves have far easier ways of finding your birth date than by cranking through microfilm at the state archives. Any bank that still uses "mother's maiden name" to protect its accounts deserves to be robbed, because there are a dozen different ways to obtain this information online and off.
I'm curious if there is any study proving a correlation between open
records-access policies and identity theft. According to the FTC, despite being an "open record" state, in 2007 Maine ranked 45th in the nation in identity theft complants per 100,000 population. Despite being a "closed record" state, Arizona ranked first. Pennsylvania, despite having extremely restrictive policies, ranked 14th [Report
Restricting access to certified copies of records is sensible, but restricting access to even non-certified copies will discourage thousands of Mainers from investigating their family histories. Locking away marriage and death records for a century is especially ludicrous. New Hampshire keeps these records private for only 50 years; Vermont and Massachusetts have even fewer restrictions.
Maine has a wonderful policy of open access to vital records. It would be a shame to hide a substantial part of our state's history from public view. Access to certified copies of records should be restricted
, but this bill is an overreaching solution to a problem that just doesn't exist.Update (12 Apr. 2010): The bill has been passed, but with an important amendment