The Department of Internal Affairs

The Department of Internal Affairs

Te Tari Taiwhenua

Building a safe, prosperous and respected nation

 
  • A discussion document was issued on the 21 January 2015 inviting people to comment on the current access rules identified in the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Act 1995 (the Act). Eighty submissions were received by the closing date of 25 February 2015.
  • Most submitters were genealogists or family historians (80 per cent - 64 of 80 submitters). One journalist responded in two different submissions and one lawyer provided a submission. Nine submissions were from private sector organisations and four submissions were from public sector organisations.
  • Eight submitters were from overseas (6 from Australia and 2 from the United Kingdom). A common concern among overseas submitters was their inability to order non-historic records through the RealMe verified account because they did not have a New Zealand mobile number.
  • Fifty-eight per cent of submitters identified the online channel (through the Department’s or another organisations historical records website) as the most frequently used channel for accessing BDM information.
  • The main reason submitters accessed a BDM certificate or printout was for genealogical research for either a family member (51 percent) and / or unrelated person (39 percent).
  • Submitters responded to the various sections of the discussion document that was of most interest to them. In general, the first three sections (including submitter profile, general access rules, historical and non-historical rules) of the discussion document received more responses than the last five sections.

General access rules

Response rate – up to 65 per cent

  • Generally submitters were not satisfied with the ‘named person’ rule (39 of 52 responses). A number of submitters said that the ‘named person’ rule prevents them from conducting online searches. Submitters commented that unless you knew the exact name or spelling it was difficult to find the specific record they were looking for online. Two submitters also noted that the ‘named person’ rule made it difficult for foreign names and conversion to English, especially when the original language doesn’t use Latin characters.
  • Thirty-five submitters wanted improved search functionality including the ability to perform wildcard searches, Soundex[1] searches, more fields for searching, and mix and match searches. Submitters suggested other countries BDM models for conducting online search and ordering of BDM records: including the Scotland government website, called ScotlandsPeople, and the United Kingdom’s government website.
  • Forty-one submitters were dissatisfied with the balance the current access rules strike between the public interest versus individuals’ right to privacy. However, only two submitters said there should be no restrictions to accessing BDM information, and only one submitter said no other person should be able to access their BDM information. In general, submitters accepted the need for some restrictions on access to non-historical records.
  • The most common reason submitters were dissatisfied was because they wanted a reduction in the time limits for historical information, and more access to current BDM records. A number of these submitters commented that the BDM information was already publicly available through sources such as newspapers, public records and indexes so raised the questions why there are restrictions on this information.
  • Submitters (36 of 45 responses) were generally satisfied with the evidence of identity check as an effective way of deterring people from accessing BDM information for criminal or other inappropriate purposes. Six submitters commented that the evidence of identity check is necessary but won’t stop determined criminals.

Historical and non-historical rules

Response rate – up to 70 per cent

  • Most submitters who responded to this question were not satisfied with the current historical information time limits, which access either the historical or non-historical information that they needed.

 

Historical information time limits – appropriate?

Can you access what you need?

 

Births

Marriages/Civil Union

Deaths

Historical

Non-historical

Yes

23% (13)

24% (13)

21% (11)

24% (12)

9% (4)

No

77% (43)

76% (41)

79% (42)

76% (38)

91% (42)

Number of responses to question

56

54

53

50

46

  • Many submitters suggested changes to the historical time limits including time limits for:
    • births that ranged from 20 to 95 years
    • marriages that ranged from 10 to 75 years
    • deaths that ranged from date of death to 40 years.
  • In line with submissions comments on the general access rules, many submitters comments to this question focussed on the time limit boundary between historical and non-historical and where that boundary should be drawn.
  • Some of the reasons for the proposed time limits include: aligning with other countries time limits, aligning with BDM indexes that are available to 1997, and allowing access to BDM information after a person dies because a dead person does not have privacy interests.

Source documents

Response rate – up to 47 per cent

  • Nine of 38 responses identified that a source document was accessed for themselves or for another person. Most submitters who responded did so simply to indicate that they wanted to access source documents to verify the accuracy of the BDM records to ensure there were no transcription errors.
  • Some submitters were not aware of the rules for accessing source documents.
  • The Office of the Privacy Commissioner commented that ‘providing access to source documents carries a greater privacy risk than providing register information by way of certificate or printout. Legislation safeguards their access.’

Access register

Response rate – up to 41 per cent

  • Twenty-eight of 33 responses identified that the access register was an effective deterrent to potential misuse of individuals’ personal information.
  • Three submitters noted that they did not know that that the access register existed.
  • Of those submitters who identified what they would do if they found out someone had misused their personal BDM information, most said they would report the incidence to the Police, the Department of Internal Affairs and the Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

Non-disclosure directions

Response rate – up to 35 per cent 

  • Most submitters (27 of 28 responses) who responded to the question on the effectiveness of the non-disclosure direction; indicated that it was an effective mechanism.
  • The majority of submitters (19 of 20 responses), who responded to the question on whether a non-disclosure direction should be time limited (5 years), identified that the non-disclosure requests should be time limited. Suggestions for changes to the 5 year time limit ranged from 12 months to indefinitely.
  • The Office of the Privacy Commissioner noted that the demonstration of safety concerns should not be too high or onerous for an individual applying for a non-disclosure direction.
  • Other grounds recommended for accessing a non-disclosure direction included sensitive birth information, medical reasons, national security, gender change, and people who have been the victims of identity fraud.
  • Three submitters recommended that people should be notified that the non-disclosure direction is expiring.

Research purposes

Response rate – up to 39 per cent 

  • Five out of 8 responses identified that health researchers should be able to receive information that identifies individuals and three submitters identified that health researchers should not be able to receive information that identifies individuals.
  • Generally, submitters (23 of 31 responses) who responded to the question on whether the 120 year threshold for accessing identifying information was an appropriate length of time, thought that this time limit was too long. Time limits suggested by submitters ranged from 80 years to 110 years.
  • Submitters identified a number of safeguards that could be put in place to protect individuals’ privacy interests including: consulting with the Privacy Commissioner before BDM information is released; requesting an ethics committee to consider and supervise all research requests and releasing BDM information to researchers on an individual’s consent.
  • Genealogical and historical research was the most recommended research purpose that submitters said should qualify for access to BDM records.

Disclosure of death information to NGOs and private sector agencies

Response rate – up to 24 per cent 

  • Twelve of 19 responses, indicated that there was no case to expand the current disclosure of death information rule to other types of BDM information.
  • Submitters suggested the safeguards to ensure an individual’s privacy interests are protected if NGOs and private sector agencies are given greater access to BDM information. These safeguards included using the Confirmation service and the verified RealMe account service, and ensuring the Privacy Commissioner oversees all agreements.
  • Other types of BDM information that submitters identified should be accessible by NGOs and private sector agencies include: birth, name change and marriage information.

Other Issues

  • Reduce costs of BDM information
  • Suggestions for BDM customer interaction
  • Recommendations for authorised access to BDM information for specific professional groups
  • Digitise records so that they are available online
  • Access to adoption information
  • NZ cellphone requirement for access to RealMe raised as an issue by both overseas submitters and a New Zealand submitter
  • Transcription errors in BDM information
  • Request for information and statistics on identity fraud in New Zealand

[1]  Soundex allows people to conduct a search based on the phonetic spelling of a family name.