TMG-L ArchivesArchiver > TMG > 2005-12 > 1135825019
From: "Henry Hoover" <>
Subject: Re: [TMG] Printing and Privacy [Long!]
Date: Wed, 28 Dec 2005 18:57:13 -0800
Welcome aboard Richard.
Your comments are right to the point.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Richard Pence" <>
Sent: Wednesday, December 28, 2005 5:32 AM
Subject: [TMG] Printing and Privacy [Long!]
> I have not participated in this list before, but I recently learned that
> there has been a long thread on the above topic, a favorite of mine.
> Before I express some opinions on parts of the discussion, here is how I
> approach "publishing and privacy":
> I do a one-name study on the PENCE surname. It is my goal to collect and
> share information about any and all of that name (and some variant
> spellings). I don't put information about living persons on line for a
> couple of reasons, neither of which is related to "privacy rights." The
> first one is that I am trying to help people find their ANCESTORS, not
> living cousins, of whom they already probably know or can easily find out.
> So including living persons is of little value. The second reason is that
> some people are quite paranoid about having information about themselves
> on the Internet. With a nod to a respect for their wishes - but mostly to
> avoid a hopeless argument about who has what rights in this matter - I
> avoid the issue by not posting something I don't think is really helpful
> any event.
> However, I fully intend to provide information about living people in a
> Pence book I am working on - if they are within the scope of the book they
> will be included even if they are still living. Fifty or 100 years from
> their descendants will be glad I did!
> Following are a few thoughts on what has been said by others in this
> 1. I have some problems with the National Genealogical Society's
> for Sharing Information." It speaks of an individual's "legal rights to
> privacy" and by so doing suggests that individuals have the legal right to
> demand that such information as their vital statistics not be published.
> my knowledge, there is no such right by legislation - nor is there such a
> thing as a _constitutional_ right to privacy. (Some legal writers suggest,
> however, that the concept of "the legal right to privacy" is one of the
> things that came about as a consequence of the Supreme Court decision in
> Rowe v Wade.)
> There is a book that got me started in genealogy nearly 50 years ago. It
> written by a distant Pence cousin who had made his fortune in real estate.
> As he had no children, he decided his legacy to the family would be a
> chronicle of the descendants of his grandfather (my third
> great-grandfather). He traveled throughout the United States visiting
> families and gathering information on each of the 16 children of his
> grandfather and his grandfather's three wives. In 1912 he published his
> which essentially listed each descendant of the grandfather, his or her
> vital stats, religion, politics and address.
> This book is cherished by family members who have a copy and is the key to
> unlocking many genealogical puzzles. But had the author followed the
> standards espoused by the NGS there would have been little information in
> the book, for nearly all of the descendants were still living. At best it
> would have been a mish-mash of those who gave permission and those whose
> life would be summed up with the word "living."
> Also, it seems a bit incongruous for the Society to tell us not to publish
> vital records of living persons when it steadfastly is battling (what may
> a losing cause) to close birth and other vital records for 100 years.
> 2. The following point was made in one of the messages:
> > You have a valid point, but by publishing information about living
> > people you make it much easier for someone of ill intent to obtain
> > all the information they need in one handy-dandy location. That is
> > why most of us restrict the publication of information of living folks.
> This argument is often made, but there seems to be no basis in fact to
> support it. Several years ago an article in the _Wall Street Journal_
> claimed that privacy experts had testified before a Congressional
> subcommittee to the effect that on-line genealogical information is
> what criminals are looking for in order for them to steal someone else's
> identity. One of these so-called experts was quoted in the article and I
> able to track him down - he had a web site which, among other things, gave
> his own birth date and family information. By email I first learned that
> contrary to the clear implication that his remarks were made before a
> subcommittee, the Journal reporter had interviewed her over the phone. In
> subsequent emails I asked him to tell me just how criminals would use
> genealogical information in their crimes. His response was that "this is
> type of information they need." To do what, I persisted, and asked for any
> examples of actual cases. He gave no further explanation except that his
> "for instance" was that the Social Security death index was a gold mine
> crooks. That did it for me. This expert, who was a lawyer and gave
> on electronic privacy all over the world, couldn't provide a single
> where on-line genealogical information had been involved in any illegal
> activity and - worse - he didn't even know that the primary users of the
> Social Security Death Index is not eager genealogists but eager financial
> institutions, which use it to - guess what? - detect the crooks who are
> trying to use the SS numbers of deceased persons!
> [It is worth noting why this issue was raised in the subcommittee: An
> Indiana congressman had received a letter from a constituent complaining
> that someone had included information on her family in a submission to one
> of the on-line genealogical databases. As a consequence, the Congressman
> started asking those testifying on privacy issues about the posting of
> 3. This comment also appeared in the thread:
> > Heard too many stories (and yes I know from first hand
> > experience that several of them are true) about information
> > posted on web sites being used to harass, stock and otherwise
> > harm women and children. Not to mention, the potential for
> > identify theft of virtually anyone.
> I have been an on-line participant for nearly 20 years. Each time I see a
> statement such as the above, I try to find exact details (and I have done
> this case). In the past I have never been able to learn of a documented
> instance of illegal misuse of on-line genealogical data. Perhaps this is
> time I will be able to learn something about how this material is such a
> boon to criminals.
> In an earlier message, Drew Smith mentioned some of the statistics I have
> posted about "identity theft." It turns out that 96 percent of all of what
> is styled as "identity theft" results from lost or stolen credit cards,
> checkbooks or phone credit cards. The percentage of identity theft
> attributed to electronic information is less than 1 percent and that is
> apparently the result of hackers messing with financial institution
> computers. Incidentally, not one question in the survey which gave the
> Federal Trade Commission its statistics on "identity theft" included the
> words "identity theft." The survey asked if the person had suffered
> financial loss as a result of a lost or stolen credit card, check book,
> If the respondent answered "yes," then the FTC counted this as a case of
> "identity theft." A bit of a slippery slope, but many respectable
> publications have quoted the FTC's claim that 20-some odd million persons
> were the victims of "identity theft" in a three-year period.
> 4. There seems to be ample paranoia among some who use the Internet. They
> adopt false or non-names and grunge their return addresses. And they
> mightily if someone dares to include information about them in a posted
> genealogy. This has always struck me as a little strange because it is
> futile for genealogists to try to ignore information about living persons.
> The simple fact is that the information is already out there somewhere.
> birth date is likely already on the Internet. Your address, too. And your
> phone number. Perhaps even the names of your parents, as in the on-line
> California Birth Index. Crooks really don't need access on-line
> material. There are much better sources for this information. And if it's
> not on line, you can get it elsewhere. Did you know, for example, that
> anyone can obtain at modest cost the voter lists (printed or on computer
> tape) for most precincts in the U.S. These come with the full name,
> phone number (even unlisted ones), date of birth and other information
> each voter. The law making these records public is to help guard against
> voter fraud.
> 5. There is a school of thought that suggests it is OK to have freedom of
> information if you have to go to the court house or city hall or write for
> it to get it, but it is not all right if the county or the city puts this
> same information on the web. There is, for example, a group here in
> whose goal is to prevent local governments from putting details about a
> home's tax assessment on line even though the law says this is public
> information and must be made available to all citizens.
> I have often mulled the question that arises from this kind of thinking:
> it possible to make records public and then specify that they can't be
> so public that they are available on the Internet? This has always struck
> as a bit like the old joke about being "just a little bit pregnant." It
> seems to me that, as with the joke, either one is pregnant or one is not
> either a record is public or it is not. Trying to keep public records off
> the Internet is akin to trying to herd cats - it can't be done easily if
> So - each time a genealogist advocates that people have the _legal right_
> demand that you not include their vital statistics, legally obtained from
> public records, in your on-line database, that genealogist is unwittingly
> calling for the closure of such public records. I suggest, then, that the
> right approach is to select a personal policy you are comfortable with and
> proceed without making an issue over who has what rights.
> To post or not to post. To print or not to print. Those are the questions
> for many genealogists - but in the final analysis it really doesn't make
> much difference how you decide. Most of our arguments on one side or the
> other are hardly relevant. People really don't have any right to keep
> information about themselves off line or out of printed material. Not only
> that, but like it or not the information is probably out there already.
> as much as some people try to frighten us with mentions of how unsavory
> crooks are just sitting there waiting for us to make a mistake and include
> the birth date of some living person so they can use that information to
> commit either fraud or rape, there is - to this point - no credible
> that any criminal has EVER used a bit of genealogical material in the
> commission of a crime. (Ah, but it _could_ happen, you say. Maybe so, but
> your concern is to protect people by legislating against what _MIGHT_
> happen, then I suggest you start by outlawing cars. Not only MIGHT someone
> be injured or killed in an auto accident, we know it happens every day.
> we don't know is whether on-line genealogical information has ever been
> involved in the commission of a crime. It would be downright silly to
> legislate against something that has never been shown to happen while
> ignoring the mayhem on the highways.)
> In summary, I suggest that it matters little who is "right" on this issue.
> Do what you think is reasonable (noncombative) with the knowledge that
> decision probably won't affect anyone either positively or negatively.
> Richard A. Pence
> 3211 Adams Ct.
> Fairfax, Virginia 22030-1900
> Voice 703-591-4243 / Fax 703-352-3560
> Pence Family History <www.pipeline.com/~richardpence/>
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|Re: [TMG] Printing and Privacy [Long!] by "Henry Hoover" <>|