I think the UK government has got it right. 100 years of privacy.
I wish all countries and companies were like this. You could write some agency and explain why you need to know something, and perhaps get the information should you provide a reason to need to know it. I can apply to the government or local church to get copies of my parents birth records to show who my grand parents are.. and they were born 100 years ago. If they weren't, I could then apply for their marriage record to get my great grandparents names. For most people this is all you need to start your family tree.
I do not agree that we should be like the UK and block out all records for individuals less than 100 years old or recently deceased. People in the US would go ballistic. Can you imagine all the complaints if the 1950 census vanished, the 1940 and 1930 censuses suddenly became partially redacted, all the city directories, public information collections, yearbook photos, obituaries, marriages, newspapers online, wills, land and other court collections became partially redacted? People scream now for the smallest things. This would be huge.
@Gail Swihart Watson said...
"I do not agree that we should be like the UK and block out all records for individuals less than 100 years old or recently deceased. People in the US would go ballistic ..."
I doubt there's much chance of redacting what was previously visible. However, even though I'm not a rampant privacy advocate, I do find the position of the US on a census cut-off to be odd, especially given that there must be many people alive today who have their childhood households on display, with all that will imply for some.
But then the USA goes and starts blocking off access to what I still call the SSDI - all because someone read "Day of the Jackal". And there are other countries who block any access to certificates less than X years old unless you can demonstrate that you're a relative... Err - that's why I want to see the certificate, to see if I am a relative. In the UK all those certificates are available - on payment of a fee - to use as a checking mechanism. Ditto wills - if you think you are due a legacy, it's useful to be able to see if that person has died and whether their will really did mention you.
It's probably sensible if we all retain a few examples like that in our heads to use against busybodies who want to cut off access. "Oh, so you don't want to be able to show that the executors of your relative's will are committing fraud?" 😉
Speaking very broadly: Record research is the core of surveillance. That said, when we consider lives that are ruined and other significant harms done thru records research, those harms aren't generally done by individuals but by governments and corporations.
Limiting record access to the powerful robs the public of power and information - information that the public pays for. It is disproportional surveillance. For this bargain the public gets little and loses much. It is difficult to see how this is in our best interest.
The converse is the level playing field of open access. We see the value in it every time we browse the census and use other public records to build out our families. And beyond genealogy are countless other fields that benefit from public data.
Nothing should be absolute but open access is our wisest default. Straying from that should be hard. It should require proof of necessity and of effectiveness. And it should come with a sunset.
Not odd, @Adrian Bruce1, just old. The 72-year restriction on the US census is an old regulation, created in a time when people rarely lived that long. The SSDI restriction is modern - and not well-thought-out, IMHO.
Reclaim The Records has publicized some excellent examples of why the SSDI restriction was a bad idea.
"The 72-year restriction on the US census is an old regulation, created in a time when people rarely lived that long ..."
Ah - that would make sense, @Áine Ní Donnghaile - it never occurred to me that it was life-span related. Our 100y on the census wasn't always set in stone, either. IIRC some of the Irish censuses were used (pre-1922) as evidence to assist people claiming old age pensions. Those censuses were lost but the pension evidence survived - and you probably know this! 😉
Yes, some of the Census Search forms are a good read. If the family couldn't be found in the census, the church register was reviewed. Sometimes we see the ages of the whole family. A wonderful help since we lost the censuses and, in some cases, those church registers.