12 November 2015

IAJGS Public Records Access Alerts Now Available to Any Interested Person + EU Privacy Win

Image of IJGS Public Records Access Alerts List sign up page, please see body of post for working link


Continuing with our ongoing theme of records access, knowing what is occurring in this regard is critical – knowledge allows us to reap the benefits of new/better access and/or lets us know when our voices maybe needed to ensure continued or better access to records than we may already have.

To this end, we can now excitedly announce the following news from the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS).  When you sign up, if you are doing so as an individual and not as a representative of an organization, please list Upfront with NGS or NGS as your affiliation.

In February 2013, the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS), started a new announcement list, the IAJGS Records Access Alert.  At that time it was decided to open the Alert only to subscribers that were members of IAJGS member societies and any person subscribed to the JewishGen Discussion Group or Special Interest Group (SIG) hosted by or owned by JewishGen.  At the IAJGS 2015 October Board meeting it was decided to open the registration to the Alert to anyone who is interested in records access. 

Registration and a listing of your organization affiliation (genealogy society, etc.) may now go to: http://lists.iajgs.org/mailman/listinfo/records-access-alerts. You will receive an email response that you have to reply to or the subscription will not be finalized. [Editor’s note – if you do not reply to this email, you will NOT be subscribed] [Editor’s note – you can select to get a daily digest mode vs real-time posts]

For those who may wish to access the archives of the IAJGS Records Access Alerts, go to: http://lists.iajgs.org/mailman/private/records-access-alerts/. You must be registered to access the archives.

As this is an announcement list, you may not post comments as you may on a discussion list. However, we do want to hear from the list subscribers worldwide if they know of public records access issues or have something relevant to add about the postings. Please send notices and comments to the following email address: RecordsAccess@iajgs.org. Where appropriate, the list owner will issue a posting.  Alerts posted to this new service will be made only when there is something of an important nature regarding public records access; therefore, do not expect this alert on a routinely daily or weekly basis. 

We look forward to having you subscribe.

Jan Meisels Allen
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

I have been interested in the IAJGS Records Access Alert since its formation.   Previously I had to wait for others to share this invaluable information with me, now I can get it direct!  The Legal Genealogist recently posted about this service, Staying alert.

Recently there have been several recent posts involving European records access that family historians around the world need an awareness of since they could impact non-Europeans researching in the directly impacted countries.  Over the next couple of weeks, I will be re-posting (with permission from Jan Meisels Allen, Chairperson, IAJGS PUblic Records Access Monitoring Committee, recordsaccess@iajgs.org) a few of those posts to bring them to your attention.  Otherwise, please do sign up (as described above) to receive future posts directly and to access the list archive.

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Privacy advocates vs. First Amendment rights won in the European Court of Justice (EUCJ) when the Court  ruled on October 6 that the international agreement permitting digital data transfer between the United States and the European Union 28-member countries is invalid. The decision found the data transfer agreement violates the privacy rights of Europeans by exposing them to allegedly indiscriminate surveillance by the U.S. government. This is a major problem for companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple who collect and mine data from European users but send it to their home bases in the United States.  It also affects any organization with international operations that needs to transfer employee information such as benefits or payroll online, and American companies that  provide cloud storage services for EU based companies. More than 4,500 European and American companies will be required to treat their information moved outside the EU with the same privacy protections the data has within the EU. The cost for this disruption of business is in the billions of dollars. The EUCJ ruling declared the data-transfer agreement, known as “safe harbor” is immediately invalid.  The ruling permits data-privacy regulators in each of the 28 member countries to evaluate how they move data from the their countries to the United States. As genealogists researching Europe rely on data found on search engines, this decision affects the genealogist in their research opportunities. The decision may be read at: http://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2015-10/cp150117en.pdf

The “safe harbor” issue is one that has continued to be debated between the EU members and was an issue in finalizing the Data Protection Regulations which espouse “the right to be forgotten” and “the right to be erased”.  The UK and Ireland are the EU countries that many US companies have based their EU operations as they were presumed to be more “liberal” in their data privacy determinations than countries such as Germany and France. The Court’s decision adversely affects the EU’s proposal of a single market known as “one stop shopping”.    Companies such as Facebook and Google may decide to store their EU citizens data in the EU. The EUCJ is the highest court in the EU and the decision may not be appealed. Their ruling noted that the 500 million EU citizens did not have the right to bring litigation in the US courts if they believed their privacy had been infringed by the US government or American companies. However, some are speculating there may be a torrent of litigation before the individual EU countries data protection agencies.

The case before the EUCJ started with Max Schremms  an Austrian citizen, who litigated against Facebook when he accused Facebook of compiling its users’ personal data in violation of Austrian and EU legislation. Mr. Schremms Facebook data is transferred from Facebook’s Irish subsidiary ((whose EU headquarters are in Ireland) ) to servers in the United States where the information is processed,  He first brought suit in Ireland against the Irish Data Protection Commissioner stating that Facebook transfers the data to the US. When he lost there, the the High Court of Ireland then referred the case  to the EUCJ. The EUCJ decision was foreshadowed when one of the advocate generals announced his non-binding opinion two weeks ago, stating he found the law and practices of the US offer no real protection about the data that is transferred to the USA,  and do not offer EU citizens adequate protection or legal recourse if the online data is misused.  Mr. Schremms is suing Facebook in an Austrian court in a separate civil class-action suit.

This decision continues with the debate between the US adherence of first amendment rights of free speech vs. the EU priority of individual privacy prevailing and the trend by EU courts stating their “right to be forgotten” requirements are global to search engines not just within the EU.

To read more about the EUCJ “safe harbor” decision see:
http://tinyurl.com/nzsq8yy
Original url:
Original url:

The issues of the Schremms’ case, proposed Data Protection Regulation, “safe harbor” and “right to be forgotten” have all been discussed in previous postings on the IAJGS Public Records Access Alert. They can be found in the archives at http://lists.iajgs.org/mailman/private/records-access-alerts/ .   You must be a registered subscriber to access the archives. To register go to: http://lists.iajgs.org/mailman/listinfo/records-access-alerts   and follow the instructions to enter your email address, full name and which JGS/JHS/SIG/JewishGen is your affiliation   You will receive an email response that you have to reply to or the subscription will not be finalized.

Jan Meisels Allen
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

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Related follow-up post ...

EU-US  Safe Harbor Agreement in Principle

While the EU and US have been negotiating for around two years to update the “safe harbor” framework following Edward Snowden’s disclosure of National Security agency spying, the  EUCJ decision made the negotiations more urgent.  European Union Justice Commissioner, Vera Jourová announced last week  that there is an agreement in principle, between the US and EU but discussions continue regarding the commitments are binding enough to fulfill the requirements of the EUCJ requirements. One issue still being discussed are clear conditions about the US Intelligence services have access to EU citizens personal data.  The U.S. Department of Commerce will provide stronger oversight to ensure US companies comply with rules to protect EU citizens’ data. To read Commissioner Jourová’s statement go to: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-15-5916_en.htm.

The EU Commission will release soon an explanation on the consequences of the Schremm’s EUCJ decision on international data transfers but it will not replace the Data Protection authorities upholding and enforcing data protection rules.

Until the final version of the General Data Protection Regulation is determined, we don’t know if the privacy issues will relate only to living persons or also to deceased which affect genealogists’ access to vital records.  As mentioned in the Jerusalem Post article reported on this announcement list on October 29, some Holocaust research access is being hampered as some European archivists are interpreting the proposed regulation to cover deceased or holocaust victims records.


As I have written before there is a major conflict between the EU fundamental right of privacy and the US First Amendment Right of Freedom of the Press.

Jan Meisels Allen
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee




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