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LDS Champion access to Ancestry

LDS Champion access to Ancestry

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New Zealand warns the proposed public records legislation, BDM amendment, could deliver unplanned negative consequences.

AUCKLAND August 7 2007: In a submission to the Select Committee, on the proposed Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Amendments Bill, Elder Spencer J Condie, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the New Zealand Area warned politicians that the amendment could place a barrier to efforts to strengthen family bonds.

According to Elder Condie tracing family ancestory is an important cultural and spiritual experience for many New Zealanders. “The concept of forming links between the generations – what the Maori call ‘whakapapa’ is fundamental in Christian theology (Hebrews 11.40),” he said. “That’s why we have invested to support genealogical research.”

The Church has established over 50 Family History Centres across New Zealand as well as joint operations with the Auckland Library, the National Library and the Panmure Genealogical Society. These centres are staffed by both LDS and non LDS volunteer consultants who assist patrons to access the millions of names available through microfilm, CD Roms and internet sources. Access to these resources is provided free of charge.

In its submission to the select committee the Church, acknowledges the intentions of the sponsors of the bill, but warns that unintentional negative consequences could result from its passing. The submission argues that the bill could create a barrier to strengthening family bonds or even make bonafide genealogical organisations at risk of criminal prosecution.


ENDS

Submission document (PDF)

Statement:

To the Select Committee

on the

Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships

Registration Amendment Bill

Thank you, honorable members of the Select Committee, for this opportunity to express our concerns with the proposed bill to limit access to births, deaths, marriages and relationships registration and the proposed imposition of criminal penalties and sanctions.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has 13 million members in more than 150 countries throughout the world and has been in New Zealand since the mid-1800s. A major tenet of our faith is the importance of establishing extended family relationships, an important element in forming one’s own identity. To this end the Church has devoted considerable resources. For more than a century the Church has been vigorously collecting family history information from archives throughout the world resulting in a current collection of 3.1 billion personal records stored on 250 million rolls of microfilm. The Church has computerized its genealogical resources and made them available, for free, via the Church sponsored website www.FamilySearch.org. The Church is also engaged in a major project in mapping the whole human family into one giant pedigree chart.

In recent years we have seen a spirit of family history sweep across the nations of the earth, and genealogy websites are among the most frequently visited internet sites throughout the world. There is something intrinsically human about establishing a sense of identity, discovering one’s heritage, and forming links that bind past generations to those yet to come—what the Maoris call whakapapa.

At a time when governments, faith groups and social organizations are seeking to strengthen family bonds, it would seem perverse to introduce legislation that would place a barrier in the way of establishing such generational identity.

These records are made readily available without cost by way of over 4,000 family history centres throughout the world that the Church provides and maintains which are valuable resources to those conducting family history. About 80% of the patrons of these centres are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but who feel welcome in using our facilities. While this vast collection of records is currently mainly available in the microfilm format, millions of the records are being digitized and indexed in preparation to be added to the records available for view by way of the Church’s genealogical website www.FamilySearch.org.

For the past two decades geneticists and medical researchers in the United States have been mining this vast archive of intergenerational records to predict the probability of the incidence of cardiovascular disease, asthma, osteoporosis, diabetes, obesity, depression, stroke, pulmonary disease and sickle cell anemia when one or more of one’s ancestors suffered from any one of those diseases. In more recent years, with the added information available from the mapping of the human genome, medical researchers are now able to predict the potential onset of various illnesses with ever increasing accuracy.

We are extremely concerned with the restriction in section 78G of the proposed bill which states that “Index information must not be made available intentionally on internet.”

Given the world-wide access to the internet, if New Zealand is the only nation to restrict internet access to vital records, then New Zealand citizens would be greatly disadvantaged in terms of access to genealogical information needed for personal family history research and also for valuable medical-health research and prognoses. All New Zealand citizens would, nevertheless, continue to have internet access to records of their relatives who may have been born in Europe, Asia, America or Australia, for example.

The alleged intent of the proposed legislation is to prevent so-called identity theft, especially in light of increasing world-wide concern with acts of terrorism. It is well to note that the United States, the United Kingdom and Spain, all of whom have suffered the greatest loss of lives through terrorist acts, have not considered taking the steps proposed in the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Amendment Bill. These nations recognize there are much more fertile resources for identity thieves to mine, for example, rubbish bins in every neighborhood containing unshredded credit card receipts, correspondence regarding superannuation, and unshredded IRD numbers from the Inland Revenue.

With the greatest respect to the sponsors of the bill, the provisions of the bill will have many negative unintended consequences:

1. By trying to prevent identity theft of an individual, the restrictive measures proposed in this bill would virtually create the identify theft of four million New Zealand citizens who will be prevented from conducting genealogical and family history research which will provide them with their own respective identity.

2. New Zealand citizens would be excluded from access to valuable medical-health information which could forewarn them of a wide variety of impending illnesses which are genetically transmitted.

3. New Zealand citizens and genuine genealogical organizations who seek to share their own genealogical knowledge and information through the internet could be at risk of prosecution and summary conviction.

Therefore, we propose a new subsection exempting those persons and organizations operating genealogical research be listed.

In summary, though the BDM amendment bill was formulated with the best of intentions, in our humble judgment, the unintended negative consequences of the bill far outweigh its merits. The proposed exception would enable the department to address privacy and identity theft concerns without penalizing organizations and individuals involved in genuine genealogical and medical research and exchange of information.


ENDS

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